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Bill aims to save time at fire scene

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GREENFIELD — New legislation headed to the Senate will improve firefighting by requiring water companies to notify fire departments of non-working hydrants.

In an emergency, the minutes having that information will save can make all the difference, officials say.

Under House Bill 1334, water companies must notify both the area fire department and the local board of health before disconnecting water service for nonpayment.

That’s because private fire protection systems (e.g., sprinklers, private hydrants and standpipe systems) are disabled when service is disconnected, cutting off water access to firefighters, according to a news release from the office of the bill’s author, Rep. Randy Frye, R-Greensburg.

“This aims to ensure that during an emergency, firefighters do not waste time hooking up to a private hydrant that has no water,” Frye said in a news release.

Private hydrants are typically found in apartment complexes and on the campuses of factories and hospitals.

Greenfield Fire Department Chief James Roberts said knowing the closest water source is top priority for public safety officials headed to the scene of a fire.

If a hydrant’s water access is restricted, firefighters can waste precious minutes hooking up their hoses to an unusable source while a structure is burning, Roberts said.

What happens during those first few minutes on the scene can mean the difference between saving a building and having it burn beyond use, Roberts added.

“If the fire gets too much of a head start on you, you’re fighting a losing battle from the beginning,” he said. “Most definitely, if we don’t have a water source readily available to us, it makes it a lot tougher for us to save a building.”

Fire engines carry water, but in the case of a sizeable fire, having access to a hydrant is best, Roberts said.

“We only have so much water in our trucks,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to try to find another water source.”

Roberts said his department’s fire engine holds 750 gallons of water, but in a true fire emergency, that doesn’t go very far.

“If we’re pouring a lot of water inside, you’re talking a matter of three or four minutes,” he said.

Under the new legislation, a water shut-off notice must be hand-delivered or mailed to the fire department and board of health at least seven days before service is scheduled to be disconnected.

If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, it will be effective immediately.

City director of utilities Mike Fruth said it’s not often the city has to restrict water access to a hydrant, but alerting the fire department is always best practice.

“Certainly, we wouldn’t want that to be a surprise where there’s an emergency, and they need access to that hydrant,” he said. “It’s not a likely situation that occurs. However, if it would, it would be serious.”

Utilities officials will either notify the department directly or place a bag over the non-working hydrant, Fruth said.

“That’s usually a signal to the fire department that that’s out of order,” he said.

After the bill passed unaninimously out of the House on its third reading this week, Frye said he felt he brought a unique perspective to the issue.

Frye was a firefighter for 26 years, he said.

“I feel honored that I am able to use my past experiences to influence good public safety policy in my current role,” he said in a news release.

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