Not in Service - fire hydrants in North Adams (copy)

The North Adams City Council has advanced a $300,000 borrowing order to replace inoperative hydrants. Nearly every neighborhood in the city has a fire hydrant that is not functional, with more than 50 out of service.

EAGLE FILE PHOTO

NORTH ADAMS — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to advance Mayor Tom Bernard’s request to borrow $300,000 to replace inoperative fire hydrants.

If approved after a second reading, the city would put out a bid to replace 50 to 60 hydrants. After inoperative and missing hydrants hampered firefighter response times to two recent fires, the city began a survey of all its hydrants, in order to bag broken ones, perform repairs, and square Fire Department and Water Department records.

As of Tuesday, the Water Department had identified 55 inoperative hydrants, out of 339 documented in the survey and more than 600 total across the city.

“Given the fact that we’re at all-time lows of borrowing, I think now is the time to borrow,” said Councilor Lisa Blackmer. “This is smart borrowing.”

By hiring an external contractor, Bernard said he expects repairs to cost $5,000 to $6,000 per hydrant, about twice the cost of using city staff. The city previously had been working to replace 10 hydrants a year but had managed to finish just seven in the previous year because of an injury, according to Councilor Wayne Wilkinson.

“The first job of government is to take care of the public,” Wilkinson said. “This does that.”

During the hydrant survey, the Water Department also identified 12 hydrants that were not listed in the city’s records and returned three hydrants to service, according to the mayor’s update.

Bernard said information from the survey would be provided to the Fire Department. A local 9-1-1 dispatcher told The Eagle that dispatchers, who use computer software to direct firefighters to nearby hydrants, had not been able to see whether those hydrants were functional.

At the same meeting, the council tabled an ordinance that would have created a fire hydrant division within the city’s Department of Public Services and mandated twice-annual inspections.

After running the ordinance by the city solicitor and considering hydrant ordinances in other towns, the General Government committee had decided to recommend not moving forward with it. Blackmer, who chairs the committee, said that there was not precedent for the council creating a fire hydrant division within the city, though she and other councilors acknowledged that there could be a role for an ordinance better aligned with how other communities have tackled the problem.

Councilor Jason LaForest, who introduced the ordinance, argued that the city needs a formal system for tracking, inspecting and repairing hydrants.

“People are offended by the fact that [the ordinance] requires timely reporting,” he said. “This is absolutely absurd.”

The vote to table the ordinance was 7-2, with LaForest and Marie Harpin voting against.

Francesca Paris can be reached at fparis@berkshireeagle.com.

and 510-207-2535.