Fire hydrant inspections: Poor water pressure a factor in spread of Kingsport fire

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- News Channel 11 took a closer look at fire hydrant inspections after poor water pressure was believed to be a factor in the spread of a fire that destroyed a Kingsport apartment unit.

MORE: Wind, lack of water make Kingsport fire difficult to contain

In May, crews spent eight hours putting out a fire at Aspen Ridge Apartments on Union Street.

Firefighters on the scene told News Channel 11 that hydrants weren’t performing properly that day.

Laurie Cassell, a current resident at the complex, said she saw the whole thing.

“I think a lot of neighbors were a little disgusted. It’s a possibility that building could’ve been saved or at least half of it if the pressure would’ve been better,” said Cassell. “Just seeing that the flames were gone, no building there, just ash, was the saddest thing I think I’ve ever seen.”

Kingsport Fire Department Chief Scott Boyd said they conduct annual inspections of all fire hydrants in the city.

“We go out, we’ll take the caps off of it. Open it, make sure there’s water on every single hydrant. That also gives us the ability to determine if there’s any maintenance that needs to be done,” he said.

A Freedom of Information Act request revealed four hydrants surrounding the complex have been inspected five times since 2012.

According to fire department records, none of them required maintenance following these tests.

The most recent inspection before the fire was in May 2018.

Boyd said the Insurance Service Office only requires flow tests for water pressure every five to ten years.

Records show the last flow test conducted on these hydrants was in May 2013.

Blue-colored hydrants are considered “hot hydrants” because they’re able to release 15 hundred gallons per minute or more, according to Boyd.

All four hydrants around the complex passed the test, records show.

So what happened on the day of the fire?

“So there are various reasons. To pinpoint one specific reason I’d really be speculating,” said Boyd.

He said water pressure issues happen occasionally, despite cleared inspections, usually due to a blocked water line or valve.

“We’ve found beer cans in hydrants, that restricts flow,” Boyd said.

Boyd said poor pressure can also be caused by increased water consumption in the surrounding area.

The water department examined the issue on the day of the fire, according to Boyd.

The fire department also conducted its annual assessment in June 2019.

“We found no anomalies whatsoever, hydrants seemed to have worked fine,” he said.

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