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McFarland demands answers to broken fire hydrant question

7/2/2014, 10:23 p.m.
Because less than half of the city's 8,460 hydrants have been flushed and inspected in the last two years, city ...
Joliet Fire Chief Joe Formhals has promised to bring a plan for flushing fire hydrants and repairing broken ones to the next Joliet City Council meeting. Karen Sorensen

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Councilman Jim McFarland

Joliet City Councilman Jim McFarland demanded answers from the city fire chief and public works department director this week about which fire hydrants in the city are broken and what the plan is to repair them.

Speaking during the new business portion of the Tuesday council meeting, McFarland broached the issue of broken hydrants and the fact that no one in the city seems to know how many are inoperable or where they're located -- a topic that has been raised several times by Times Weekly columnist Wayne Horne.

The city has 8,460 fire hydrants, but only 3,020 have been inspected since 2012, according to Joliet records supplied to Horne via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Of the hydrants that were examined in that period, 185 were found to be broken and have either been repaired or replaced, the records show.

But the state of the remaining 5,440 hydrants in the city is unknown. The fire department is currently flushing those located in fire station districts 7 and 9 -- about 2,000 all told -- and those in station districts 6 and 8 will be done in the fall, Fire Chief Joe Formhals said. (Fire hydrant testing is not done during hot summer months because it depletes the city's water supply.)

Hydrants in the remaining four fire station districts are to be done in 2015, he said.

That's not good enough, McFarland said, questioning why all of the hydrants cannot be tested during the current year so that officials know exactly where the inoperable ones are located and plans are made to repair them as quickly as possible.

"I want to know there is water available in the hydrant that is one my block, and that it is working," McFarland said. "I think every resident in Joliet deserves that. And I am sick of being railroaded with incorrect answers to my questions.

"What I'm saying is we need a plan to find out which hydrants work and which do not," he said.

Councilman Larry Hug backed McFarland's request, saying that fire protection is a high priority for residents, who assume fire hydrants will be available should their homes catch on fire.

Beyond that, a homeowner's insurance rates could go up dramatically if their provider learns the hydrant that services their home is not working, Hug said.

Mayor Tom Giarrante, a retired firefighter, said it's unreasonable to assume that every fire hydrant will always be functional. Nor is it necessary for a hydrant to be working for the fire department to be able to put out a fire.

Formhals agreed, saying a house would not be in jeopardy because of a broken hydrant. Tanker trucks carry 1,000 gallons of water, which is sufficient to put out most blazes, he said. Hydrants are the safety net when more water is needed, and should a hydrant be broken, there is enough time to tap another hydrant before the 1,000 gallons are exhausted, he said.

However, he also conceded to McFarland's point and said he would return to the council at its next meeting with a plan for flushing and inspecting all of the city's hydrants so that they know exactly how many are not functioning.

Contact Karen Sorensen at Karen@TheTimesWeekly.com.