Black hydrants spark fire protection concerns

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by By CHRIS HAWES / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:51 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 4:14 PM

Video
Chris Hawes reports
July 22, 2008

Most people likely assume that when there is a fire in their neighborhood or at their home, firefighters use hydrants nearest to the blaze. However, in the case of hydrants painted black, that's not the case.

Water companies use that color to note hydrants that cannot support fire hoses. Thousands of black hydrants exist across the state.

Here is the problem. While water companies have taken the fire hydrants out of commission by painting them black, many of them actually work, and the water companies know it.

"These homes are anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million," said Mehrdad Moayedi of his development in North Tarrant County. "It connects to Eagle Mountain lake. It's a really unique property"

While happy with his neighborhood, Moayedi said he does have one serious concern, the black hydrants that can be seen throughout The Resort on Eagle Mountain Lake.

Legally, painting a hydrant black signals it can't support a fire hose. It's a color change for lower-functioning hydrants and is required by a state law passed last year.

With all the black hydrants in his neighborhood, he said he isn't too comfortable when it comes to fighting a fire.

"No, obviously it could be a lot better," he said of the level of protection in the area.

Moayedi said while he would gladly consider pitching in to upgrade the system and perhaps add additional storage tanks, he said it's not his call. Aqua Texas is the water company authorized to service the area, and they said they're determined to keep the hydrants just the way they are in their 300 or so communities in the state.

"We provide water utility service; we do not provide fire protection," said Bob Laughman, with Aqua Texas.

Aqua Texas is following the recommendation of the Texas Trade Association, which represents private water and sewer systems. In many rural areas, the hydrants are meant primarily as flush valves. Many companies paint the hydrants black out of fear homeowners will sue if a hydrant not colored black fails in a fire.

"This is not a Resort problem," Laughman said. "There are I don't know how many houses that are in the same situation with the same rural fire protection."

Firefighters News 8 spoke with pointed out a homeowner can just as easily sue if a firefighter passes over a hydrant painted black that actually works.

The issue will be addressed in the next legislative session, and will likely bring up ideas that include a color coding system and providing private systems the same legal protection as city water departments.

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