41 Action News causes KCMO to overhaul fire hydrant inspections

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Is the fire hydrant in your neighborhood working?
Hundreds remain out of service in Kansas City, Mo.

After 41 Action News investigated out-of-order hydrants, the Kansas City Water Services Department decided to completely overhaul its hydrant inspection program.

There are 800 non-working hydrants across the city - most of them will sit for months. Firefighters say some go more than a year without any repairs.
Managers at the city's Water Services Department said they are now making changes to speed up the repair time.

But Andy Shively, water services manager of systems and engineers, said the hydrants are not a public safety concern.

The city said there is not a public safety problem if the hydrant in front of a resident's house does not work because there is another down the street no more than 600 feet away.

"We believe with that redundancy we are still providing fire protection and enabling the fire department to do their job," Shively said.
But Hyde Park resident Onnolee Miller said, "I'm not comfortable with that."

We requested the inspection records of every fire hydrant that either needs repairs or is out of service.
In Miller's Hyde Park neighborhood, the hydrant right in front of her house isn't working.

Work order records show it has had problems possibly as long as 2009. The hydrant is an asset that has always made her feel safe.
Firefighters would have to stretch a hose several hundred feet away to the next hydrant at the corner.

"That's a long way to bring a hose down the corner to the middle of the block and would take a little more time," Miller said.
It only took 13 minutes for fire to destroy Josh Priest's house in April.

Priest said, crying, "Firefighters told me it didn't work."

The hydrant nearest to his house was color coded wrong so firefighters lost time finding another.

The next closest hydrant was so far away you are not able to even see it from his home.
Firefighters say a fire doubles in size every minute.
This is why we asked the city why repairs take months, perhaps years.

"Going on months on end is terribly inefficient and that's what we are working to correct by moving from a paper process to a paperless process," Shively said. "We definitely want to improve and make that more efficient."

Right now, it can take firefighters up to 30 days to get their inspection findings on paper to the water department.

"Looking at the map, they didn't know where they were supposed to inspect, whether it was here, or here," Shively explained.

The city has now streamlined the paper system and is working to move to an electronic system.

"What that would do is make us operate as close to real time as possible," Shively said.

The fire department inspects and the city maintains 23,000 fire hydrants.
The Water Services Department said of the 800 out of service hydrants, they put only about a dozen on a high priority list.

Only those, they said they believe would put the public at risk in the event of a fire since the nearest hydrant is too far away for a firefighter's 800 foot hose to reach.

Kansas City firefighters start this year's new inspections in June.

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