Friday September 14, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The city has nearly completed its $200,000 project to repair or replace 77 aging or inoperable fire hy drants in an effort to improve fire protection for Pittsfield homes and businesses.

Since the spring, the Pittsfield Water Department has fixed 32 hydrants that were out of service. Meanwhile, a private contractor was hired to replace the city's 36 worst hydrants, according to municipal officials. Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood said John's Tractor and Excavation Services of Lanesborough has finished about two-thirds of the project.

"We replaced hydrants that weren't working at peak performance or were aging," he said.

Collingwood noted some hydrants date back to the 1920s, but remain in good working condition.

The city usually spends $50,000 each year to replace 10 to 12 hydrants. However, public works officials stepped up their effort this winter to find faulty fire hydrants after a failed one caused a "slight delay" in Pittsfield firefighters' efforts to battle a house fire on Plunkett Street in late December.

In March, Water Depart ment inspectors completed a three-month examination of all 1,700 hydrants in the city and found 32 weren't in working order. On March 27, the City Council approved using water user fees and other municipal funds to accelerate the city's fire hydrant im provement plan.

"We're happy the city has followed a course of action to fix the hydrants," said Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski. "When I drive around and find another hydrant being worked on I say, 'Thank God, there's another good one.' "

The fire hydrant upgrade was sparked, in part, by an existing hydrant at the corner of Plunkett and Kellogg streets that wasn't working on Dec. 19 when fire broke out in a residence 300 feet away. The blaze at 25 Plunkett St. displaced two tenants, Charles Ellsworth and Claud ia Jean White, the mother of former city Councilor Peter T. White.

The out-of-service hydrant forced firefighters to tap into a hydrant 600 feet away, on the opposite side of Tyler Street, causing a "slight delay" in dousing the fire, fire officials said at the time.

The city has since replaced the hydrant a cost of $21,500, part of the $200,000 expenditure, according to Colling wood. He said the new one serving the Plunkett Street area needed to be connected to a larger water main, providing better fire protection.

Czerwinski expects The Fire and Water departments together will work to ensure all city fire hydrants are operational.

"As soon as we discover a hydrant is problematic, we notify the Water Department immediately," he said.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.