NORTH ADAMS — The replacement of broken fire hydrants is set to begin next week, Mayor Tom Bernard announced at a City Council meeting Tuesday evening.
“We expect to begin installation on Monday," he told councilors.
"Can we clap?" City Council Vice President Lisa Blackmer said.
"When they are all installed, we can clap," Bernard responded.
This past winter, broken hydrants delayed firefighters in their effort to battle a blaze that destroyed a house on Veazie Street, during which firefighters had to try four hydrants before finding one that worked. At a fire at Greylock Valley Apartments in January, firefighters were forced to use a hydrant farther away when a closer hydrant did not work.
Installation of 50 hydrants will start on Holden Street and will take about 60 days, said Timothy Lescarbeau, the city's commissioner of public services.
An audit conducted several months ago of every city hydrant found 50 out of the city's more than 600 not working, Lescarbeau said.
This year, the issue of broken hydrants prompted discussion on the council about various ordinances changes, and in March, the council voted to approve a $300,000 loan to pay for the replacement project. Bids were awarded in June to purchase and install 50 new hydrants.
Though the issue often was discussed at City Council meetings this year, Lescarbeau said that broken hydrants are nothing new.
"These hydrants have been broken for quite awhile," he said. "It's always been known. There was never any money."
A decade ago, when Lescarbeau started working for the city, there were about 200 broken hydrants, he said.
"The hydrant system has not improved as promised over the last few years," Matthew LaBonte, president of the union representing firefighters in the city, wrote in a letter shared with the City Council in February. "It has continued to decay and puts the lives of our community members at great risk."
Communication about problem hydrants also was flagged as an issue.
This year, Stephen Meranti, who at the time was interim fire chief, said that sometimes out-of-service hydrants were reported, but dispatch — it tells firefighters where nearby hydrants are located — was not aware. Departments need to communicate better about hydrants, Bernard said in March, and there needs to be a clear procedure to track the information.
An updated list of out-of-service hydrants was given to dispatch after the audit, Lescarbeau said.
"That’s all up to date," he said.
Specific communication protocols among the departments have been established, he said.