City Acknowledges Water Supply Problem During Fire

City Acknowledges Water Supply Problem During Fire

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News Specialist John Hollenhorst reporting Officials of the fire department and utility department met today to figure out what they could learn from yesterday's water problems.

They say two hydrants didn't work. And a third hydrant, for a time, provided inadequate pressure.

When firefighters arrived at yesterday's big blaze, they hooked up their hoses to the nearest hydrant.

Scott Freitag of the Salt Lake fire department says, "The hydrant that needed to work, worked."

But, as the fire spread ferociously through the strip mall, firefighters needed more water. More hydrants.

The next three they tried didn't work properly because of a major street construction project on South Temple.

"This is the first time we've run into multiple hydrants out at the same time," Freitag says.

Firefighters had to run hoses an extra block-and-a-half, causing about a 15 minute delay. Yesterday, that was portrayed as a big problem.

Yesterday, Freitag said, "Probably the biggest problem we ran into was the water lines. There was just not adequate water supply, once we went into defensive mode, to get that fire knocked down quickly."

Today, after a meeting of city officials, a slightly different emphasis.

"Having been going over this now for 24 hours and having investigators having a chance to go back into the building, we're fairly confident that we would have lost the strip mall, regardless," Freitag says.

They say additional information about the strip mall's multiple ceilings and unprotected fire pathways convinced them it was a lost cause, even before the water issue ever arose.

Property owners are making their own assessment. Could there be a lawsuit involving water supply?

Tony Rampton is an attorney for the owners. He says, "It's too early. We're looking at issues like that. Don't have an opinion at this point."

Water officials apparently did not follow procedure. There's no record they notified the fire department when the hydrants were taken out of service several months ago.

Deputy director of utilities Jeff Niermeyer says, "It does give me pause to make sure that our people are trained on the process and following the process."

All admit it could have been a damaging mistake if the strip mall hadn't already been a goner.

Fire Chief Chuck Querry says, "We are concerned about anything that causes us a delay."

The city utility chief told us he thinks his departmnent needs to rexamine the way it coordinates major construction projects. The fire department considers the problem a fluky thing, unlikely to occur again. Ordinarily, they say city hydrants have fantastic water pressure.

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