“This is life threatening”: Petersburg fire hydrants out of commission for months

PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Petersburg residents are fuming after learning some fire hydrants in the city are not working. Some of them have been known to be faulty for months and are still out of service. Many say lives are at risk.

Back in January, a man was killed in a house fire on Byrne Street. When crews responded to try and fight that fire, the hydrant right across the street would not work. More than three months later, that hydrant was still sitting inoperable, and 8News has learned it is not the only one.

On Byrne Street, not much has changed. The charred skeleton of a house still stands, remnants of police tape nearby, and just last week and “out of service” ring remained on the fire hydrant right across the street.

On Thursday after 8News reporter Parker Slaybaugh started asking questions, it was removed.

“It’s frustrating because they don’t fix nothing, they will make a new golf course or do like a little fancy sign in front of the high school and stuff, but they don’t fix the stuff that needs to be fixed like the fire hydrants,” Petersburg resident Johnelle Nicholas said.

The story is quite the same just across town at the intersection of James Road and William Street. That hydrant is out of service at an apartment complex filled with children.

“They could die, they could get hurt really bad in the fire,” Nicholas said.

The worried mother says this hydrant has also been out of order for months. She is worried if a fire erupts and if firefighters rely on running long hoses to another hydrant or just use what water they can carry on a truck, they could run out of time.

“By the time all that happens it could be too late, somebody could get burnt to death in the fire because we don’t have a working fire hydrant,” said Nicholas.

And if that were to happen, 8News Legal Expert Carey Bowen says the city could be held liable.

“This is urgent, this is life threatening, this is a bad situation,” said Bowen.

A lawsuit could cost an already cash-strapped city millions.

“Any government agency in effect has a duty to live up to their bargain, their agreement, you pay us taxes we will pay salaries, we’ll do up keep on roads, we’ll do stuff like that and in this case fire hydrants, we’ll keep them in operable condition so that if they are needed they can be counted on,” said Bowen.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, 8News asked for all the hydrants in the city that were known to not be working. The city sent us five, including the one on James Road plus hydrants at 900 Magazine Rd, 756 S. West St, 316 E. Bank St, and 3329 W. Washington St. The city did not include the one in the 400 block of Byrne street, despite that out of service ring still adorning it.

“They have to keep things safe for you, reasonably safe,” Bowen explained. “Now, it would be different if the fire hydrant went bad overnight and they had no way to know about it.”

But the city should know about the Byrne Street hydrant. Back in January when we first exposed the faulty hydrant, the Division Chief told us that hydrant had already been on a list for months.

“I feel that that unit was identified and it was on a list,” Mark Milazzo with the Petersburg Fire Department said back in January.

Bowen says he hopes the city can fix this before it’s too late.

“At all levels it’s hard to believe that something isn’t being done about this right away,” Bowen.

Despite the city removing the “Out of Service” ring once 8News starting asking questions, a city spokesperson says there is not enough water pressure available to that hydrant to fight a fire should one break out.
We’re told major infrastructure changes need to happen and none right now are planned.

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