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Detroit orders inspections to find broken hydrants

Downtown Charlottesville fire hydrant
Ben Schumin

Detroit officials have ordered inspections for all 30,000 of the city’s fire hydrants to figure out which are frozen or broken.

The city’s firefighters have reported about 1,000 broken hydrants since the beginning of December.

Jeff Pegg, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters’ Association, said broken hydrants mean big risks for fire fighters and the citizens they’re supposed to protect.

“If the hydrant is frozen, then you have to go to the hydrant down the street,” Pegg said. “The further you go, the more problems, because of the longer distance you have to travel.”

Longer distances between hydrants and fires means less water pressure. Less water pressure means more time to extinguish the flames.

Detroit currently uses a mostly paper system for reporting broken hydrants.

Firefighters who regularly inspect the city’s hydrants fill out a form when they find one that is broken or frozen. That form eventually makes its way to the city’s water department, which is in charge of repairs and replacements.

Shuffling papers from department to department means delays. Pegg said that’s not a new problem.

“You can report a hydrant, and the hydrant will be out all season,” he said. “Then when you check it again, it’s the same hydrant that’s out.”

The city has plans to soon switch to an electronic-based system to tighten the gap between when a broken hydrant is first reported and when it gets fixed or replaced.

Detroit’s chief information officer Beth Niblock said under the new system, firefighters will use their smartphones to report broken hydrants.

“[Reports] will automatically go over to the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage and generate a work order,” Niblock said. “When DWSD fixes [a hydrant], it will be updated on the geospatial information layer.”

The geospatial information layer shows firefighters on their way to a blaze where to find the closest hydrants.

Niblock said the new system should be in place by the end of May.

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