Hank Investigates: Hank Investigates
Charred walls and melted metal -- all that remains of this Taunton business...
Firefighters lost their battle--when the hydrant they relied on didn't work.
Arnold Galloway, Business Owner
"They were yelling back and forth that there was no water. Almost frantic, no water no water."
Another hydrant was supposed to protect this Taunton home-it failed too.
Tony, fire victim
"The fire department, they tried their best. But they didn't have no water."
And how about the hydrant in front of your house?
Our investigation found there's no law requiring anyone to test it. Though industry guidelines say hydrants should be inspected at least once a year--we found in many Massachusetts communities that just doesn't happen.
In Quincy: flames spread quickly here after a hydrant didn't work. How many more are like this? Who knows? We discovered Quincy hydrants are inspected just once every four years.
In Walpole: firefighters rushed to a fire at this home, but the closest hydrant wouldn't open. The next one didn't work either. Finally firefighters used a third one, ten houses away. Janet's home was in ruins.
"I kept saying to my friends around me, where the water, there's no water."
Why didn't firefighters know it? Walpole's water department can only afford to check hydrants once every 4 years and they don't keep inspection records.
"When you hit the hydrant and it doesn't open or it doesn't work or there is no water, how bad it that?
Chief Timothy F. Bailey, Jr., Walpole Fire Department
"It's horrible. It could be life threatening."
Which ones work? In Cambridge, they know. Annual inspections, elaborate databases and color coded hydrants instantly tell firefighters where the water is or isn't.
Sam Quarter, Cambridge Water Department
"It's a life and death situation."
In other communities, we found broken hydrant reports in files and notebooks.
When Lynn firefighters rushed to put out flames here, they say they weren't told the closest hydrant wouldn't work, but records prove the water department knew it for months.
Since each hydrant here is checked for water just once in two years which other ones are broken?
"Does that worry you at all?"
Jim Sherman, Lynn Water and Sewer
"Yes every time I hear sirens going down the street I cringe."
Jim Sherman, Lynn Water and Sewer
"Because I just hope that everything is going to work."
And look what they find when they do check. Hydrants are supposed to work like this. (high flow hydrant)
In Lancaster the new chief found one in four hydrants worked more like this. (low flow hydrant)
Chief John Fleck, Lancaster Fire Department
"I think its a wake up call."
After these fires Taunton's new water director also began a city wide inspection, as in so many other communities, the condition of thousands of hydrants are still a mystery.
"How many hydrants have the proper flow? Do you know?"
Doug Velochen, Taunton Water Department
"No. This is part of the assessment of what we are doing."
So does the hydrant outside your house work? It could be that no one knows and that means it may take an emergency to find out.
"You depend on that hydrant to provide the water to fight the fire. When its not there you could lose your life."
When officials find a broken hydrant, they insist they do what they can to repair it. Problem is when underground pipes are clogged and rusted the fix may take years and millions of dollars.
(Copyright (c) 2005 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)