By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
PRNCEVILLE — The fire that gutted T&T Grocery, a town landmark, last Friday morning, served as a notice to the Princeville Volunteer Fire Department and the citizens that the repairs of the town's fire hydrants should be completed as soon as possible.
Help is on its way.
The town recently received an $84,420 grant to repair 25 hydrants. Tuesday, the Local Government Commission approved $9,380 transfer from the Water and Sewer fund to match the grant. The LGC also amended the town's budget for the acquisition.
At least 25 of the town's 80 fire hydrants are either not working or in dire need of repairs. Three of the faulty hydrants are near some of the town's largest and oldest structures — Princeville Elementary School, St. Luke Church of Christ Disciples of Christ and Princeville Museum.
Princeville community activist Milton Bullock said the faulty hydrants have placed the resident in "imminent danger." Bullock was awakened by the commotion created by the T&T Grocery fire. He went to the scene and watched the fire destroy the landmark.
"It is nothing short of a crime to expose a whole town to such dire risk as losing their lives on a daily basis," Bullock said.
The faulty hydrants came to light in May after the fire department responded to a house fire on Otis Avenue. While battling the fire, firefighters found that a hydrant less than 50 feet from the house was not operable. The remains of T&T Grocery is located less than 50 feet from another fire hydrant that does not work.
The upkeep of the hydrants are the town's responsibility. Sometime prior to 2009, the town received a grant to repair the hydrants, however they have yet to be repaired.
After the Otis Avenue house fire, officers of the fire department pleaded to town officials for help. Commissioner Ann Brown alerted the Local Government Commission about the problem and the state agency immediately applied for a grant.
In the mean time, firefighters and the citizens are crossing their fingers in hopes that the grant will be approved and no more fires call will have to be made while wondering if a hydrant works or not.
Butch Beach, Edgecombe County emergency manager director, said non-working fire hydrants did not play a part in the total destruction of T&T Grocery. He boasted about the county's mutual aid agreement which sends up to three fire departments to structure fires to assist the home department. On Friday, Lewis Community, Speed and Conetoe volunteer fire department assisted Princeville.
"All of them combined carried about 7,000 gallons of water," Beach said. "That was sufficient amount of water for that fire. Plus there's a hydrant on Neville Street, less than 400 yards away, which is working.
"Our system is designed where you don't have to have hydrants very near by. That's why we have mutual aid. When we're out in certain parts of the county, there are no hydrants in sight. We rely on mutual aid. But don't get me wrong, all hydrants need to be in good working condition. I hope that the town will resolve this issue soon."
(EDITOR'S NOTE: T&T Groceries is the second landmark the town has lost in three years. The old Glennies building, which was built in 1952, was torn down by the town in 2009. The building was severely damaged by the 1999 flood. It had been gutted before it was demolished. Many of the residents, including a couple of commissioners were angered by the demolition.
Today, the oldest landmark building in town is Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church, which was built in 1890.)