If keeping fire hydrants that could not supply a sufficient amount of water to the Poppasquash Road neighborhood provided nothing more than a false sense of security to area residents, then removing them sparked a firestorm of protest.
“The fact is, if there’s a major fire there and we have to bring tankers in it would be a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes before one gets here. It’s a public safety issue,” said town council vice chairman David Barboza.
At the town council’s request, Pam Marchand, executive director of the Bristol County Water Authority, appeared at the Aug. 29 town council meeting to discuss the reasoning for removing the hydrants on Poppasquash Road.
“The hydrants served no useful purpose,” Ms. Marchand said.
The options were to place bags on the hydrants so that mutual aid departments would not be tempted to use them, or remove them entirely. The decision to remove them was made after discussing the situation with Bristol Fire Chief Robert Martin.
The 8,000-foot water main dates back to the 1800s, she said, when it was installed by the Colt family. The six-inch pipe that runs through wetlands and salt water cannot provide enough water for fighting fires, she added. While the line has become restricted due to sediments, the real problem, said Ms. Marchand, is that it’s simply “too long and too small” to deliver.
“It would never be able to carry fire flow even when it was brand new,” she said.
In addition, Ms. Marchand said that if the lines were opened, “a large flow could drag contaminants into the flow” which would adversely affect drinking water.
“What happens if my house catches on fire tomorrow,” asked Poppasquash Road resident Gina MacDonald.
Another resident, Jill Wescott, had a similar reaction to the situation.
“When I built my house in 2009, no one told me the hydrant at the top of the hill wasn’t useful,” she said. “I sort of feel the town had an obligation to let me know the hydrant wasn’t up to snuff.”
A year after Ms. Wescott was in her home, her insurance company canceled her insurance due to the lack of fire flow. Chief Martin said that the plan his department has in place satisfies insurers’ underwriting requirements.
Using a “tanker task force,” a recent brush fire in a remote area of Colt State Park was successfully extinguished. Alternatives, such as a device called a “turbo trap” that allows an apparatus to pump water from 200 feet away, as opposed to the 20-foot distance the department currently needs, is being reviewed.
With a new subdivision being developed on Poppasquash Point, as well as the Quinta-Gamelin Reserve Center soon to become a community center, having a sufficient amount of water to fight a fire is a growing concern. The testing of the town’s fire hydrants is the responsibility of the BCWA, said Chief Martin.
“We’ve been paying our water bill,” said Ms. MacDonald. “Part of that bill is to pay cleaning and maintenance.”
Councilwoman Mary Parella expressed her concern with the situation.
“I can’t think of anything in this community more pressing. With all we’ve been through with the BCWA, this is disheartening. Drinking water and fire safety is paramount,” she said.
Council chairman Ken Marshall called for a workshop to pursue a solution.
While residents found the lack of water in the area to be a surprise, those in the water authority saw otherwise.
“The fact that it’s a 100 year-old line in that kind of environment and it still holds pressure is somewhat of a miracle,” said Ken Booth, BCWA operations manager.
Ms. Marchand said the hydrants can be put back in place if desired, but that won’t correct the issue.
“We are looking into any kind of alternative to get water into the area,” she said.