PRINCEVILLE — Faulty fire hydrants throughout the town have caused members of the Princeville Volunteer Fire Department to have grave concerns about their ability to fight fires. At least 25 out of 80 fire hydrants are either not working at all or in dire need of repairs. Three of the faulty hydrants are near some of the town's largest structures — Princeville Elementary School, St. Luke Church of Christ Diciples of Christ and Princeville Museum. The museum is located adjacent to the fire department.
The faulty hydrants came to light in May after the fire department responded to a house fire. While battling the fire, firemen attempted to get water from a hydrant that was less than 50 feet from the house, but when the volunteers attempted to get water, they couldn't unscrew the cap, said PVFD Assistant Chief Antwan Brown.
"They put a wrench on it, but they couldn't turn it," Brown said. "They didn't panic. They went to another hydrant (which was about 500 yards from the structure) and attached hose to it. The guys quickly adapted to the situation and overcame the problem. They did an awesome job."
Brown said the firefighters contained the fire and only smoke damage was reported. However, he said he is concerned about the next fire call. Each time his department is toned out, he said he shivers before the dispatcher alerts him to the nature of the call. Then, he thinks about the condition of the hydrants.
"Fire hydrants that are not functional puts us in a position where we can't do our job," Brown said. "It also puts a strain on our mutual aid responders. As the primary fire department, we should provide the majority of the water supply."
Shortly after the fire, a town official contacted the Local Government Commission (LGC) about the hydrant problems. LGC took over the town's books due to its poor financial conditions in July 2012. The takeover means that the LGC will handle all of the town's financial transactions.
LGC reacted immediately to the hydrant problem and applied for a $50,000 Rural Center grant to repair the hydrants.
A state mandate requires that all fire hydrants must be tested yearly and a report filed on their conditions and given to the proper authorities responsible for their upkeep. The Town of Princeville is responsible for the hydrants within the city limits.
Brown said the faulty hydrant had not been operable for about three years. Brown, who was recently promoted to assistant chief, said he did not know whether or not reports had been filed.
"I can't answer that," he said. "All I can say is that I was told that they were turned in."
Princeville commissioner Ann Howell said she is not aware of the fire department fire hydrant reports.
"It's been some years since I've seen one," said the 25-year veteran commissioner. "I think it was during Mayor (Delia) Perkins' administration. We applied for a grant to repair them along with the water meters. The water meters were repaired. I don't know why the hydrants were not repaired."
Perkins, who lost to current Mayor Priscilla Everette-Oates in 2009, said the plan was in place to replace nine hydrants before she left office.
"The hydrants need repairing as soon as possible because they could become a huge liability against the town," she said. "The town is responsible for those hydrants."
PVVD recently passed its yearly mandatory ISO rating that was administered by the N.C. Department of Insurance.