In wake of two homes destroyed by fire, Eatonton fire hydrant situation alarms resident
This photo, taken by a North Jefferson Avenue resident, shows a hydrant that is useless as a fire ravages a house in the background Nov. 8. (Contributed photo.)
By Lyn Romine / Guest Columnist
EATONTON -- The folks up on North Jefferson Avenue are very concerned about the water hydrant issue that our city is facing. Sadly, it took two fires, at 610 N. Jefferson Ave. on July 4, 2015 and at 505 N. Jefferson Ave., on Nov. 8, for us to realize that instead of having the three working water hydrants on our street, there was only one, and it was at the corner of Jefferson and High Street. This hydrant has to provide water protection for all the homes from that corner north to the Eatonton Motel.
Getting water on a fire quickly and continuously is imperative in saving property and lives, and it takes time to run hoses to other working hydrants; as we sadly witnessed again this past week when the fire broke out on North Jefferson Avenue.
Our wonderful firefighters do the best they can with this limited number of working hydrants. Four minutes after the call was received, a single firefighter in his pumper truck arrived at the scene and began to suppress the fire; but in less than five minutes, the truck’s water supply was depleted and the fire flared up again. Seventeen minutes after the call was received, a second fire truck arrived and 400 feet of hose was rolled out and connected to the one working hydrant, and the fire was finally subdued.
However, it could have been worse if the amazing policeman, who arrived just minutes after the fire started, had not been able to get Lyla Fowler’s daughter, Wendy, out of the burning house; or had the fire spread to the dry trees and neighboring properties while firemen were rolling out hoses for additional water, this could have been a worse tragedy.
It has been a year and a half since most of the public found out about the 41 non-working hydrants in our city, and still nothing has been done. Sadly, it seems that we are in the middle of a political deadlock between the county interests and city interests; but those of us who sleep in homes near blacktopped water hydrants just want them repaired so we can be safe.
Eatonton-Putnam Water and Sewer Authority (EPWSA), is the sole provider of water service and sewage treatment for both the county and city, and the position of chairman of the board rotates between the county and the city.
The City Mayor, Walt Rocker Jr., stepped into the role of board chairman this January, and recently had all the hydrants tested and marked to identify non-working and those with low-pressure. He agrees that EPWSA needs to fix these hydrants. Mr. Steve Hersey, our county commission chairman, past EPWSA chairman and current vice chairman, does not think that EPWSA should take responsibility for fixing the non-working hydrants, saying that they received bad hydrants from the city. However, the contract that EPWSA signed in April of 2007 clearly shows that they took ownership of the entire city’s water lines and hydrant assets, so it is a little late to claim no responsibility. EPWSA’s budget shows they have $2.5 million in the bank and a positive cash flow close to $1 million. Why hasn’t anything been done in the last 10 years to upgrade our hydrants?
A group of concerned homeowners attended last week’s Nov. 16 EPWSA board meeting and expressed their concerns, but left frustrated with unanswered questions and the feeling that we were still no closer to solving our problems.
I know EPWSA is made up of good public servants and employees who would not intentionally put people and property at risk; but unfortunately, they have not communicated this to our citizens.
Putting politics aside, residents from our street, and I am sure many others in the city, would like Mrs. Donna Van Haute and her staff, along with the EPWSA board, to schedule a meeting to present their plans for repairing or replacing these city hydrants and infrastructure, so we can have adequate fire protection throughout Eatonton.
(Lyn Romine is an Eatonton resident. Email her at email@example.com.)
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