CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Public Service Commission is encouraging more than 300 water utilities in West Virginia to respond to an order issued at the end of June that deals with fire hydrants.
A deadline has now been extended by the PSC to August 25 for municipalities and water districts to file reports on the maintenance and testing of their fire hydrants. The original deadline was July 28.
The PSC warned that the consequences could be serious if municipalities respond in time.
“We take this matter extremely seriously and must see these final and complete reports,” PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane said.
“We are in the process of trying to develop an inventory of what is out there in the state now and what is being done as far as inspections and making sure that fire hydrants are working,” Lane said during a meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Technology and Infrastructure.
Lane said the PSC has received responses from about half of the utilities so far.
“To date, we have received about 120 some responses and we’re going to be continuing to encourage the rest of the utilities that have not responded to respond and give us that information,” she said. That number was later determined to be around 150.
The PSC’s order was issued after faulty fire hydrants in Charleston prevented firefighters from putting out a blaze at the home of Kanawha County Board of Education member Ric Cavender back in May. West Virginia American Water Company (WVAWC) said three fire hydrants along Edgewood Drive, Beech Avenue and Chester Road in the Edgewood section of the city did not have enough water pressure to fight the fire. It took fire crews four hours to put out the blaze.
Cavender filed a lawsuit against WVAWC a few weeks later claiming that his house burned down, his belongings were destroyed, and his dog died because of the faulty fire hydrants. The company declined to comment on the litigation.
At least three fire hydrants in the area of Cavender’s home had to be replaced. Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin at the time called the situation “unacceptable.”
Jonathan Fowler with the PSC’s Engineering Division said there are tens of thousands of fire hydrants across state, but water utilities have never been asked until now to report anything other than the number of hydrants in their districts.
“What we’re trying to do now is to develop a more comprehensive data base to reflect the industry standard on maintenance and testing of these hydrants,” Fowler told lawmakers Monday.
Del. Kayla Young (D-Kanawha) asked Fowler more about the PSC’s order which expired July 28.
“That’s already passed, so half of these water utilities are not in compliance?” she asked.
“Half of them have not responded. That is accurate,” Fowler said.
Young then asked what the PSC can do to make sure the utilities respond to the order.
“What do you do if they don’t respond? I mean these people’s home are potentially in danger. How do we best protect our constituents?” Young asked.
Fowler said there will be further order issued by the PSC to urge the utilities to respond and that there may be additional action by the commission if necessary.
The PSC has been reviewing the responses they have received so far and will deliver a report in the future. Fowler said there is some progress.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how many smaller utilities actually have a written fire hydrant maintenance procedure and how many small utilities and municipalities were able to provide documentation of that,” he said.
Lane said she hopes their order to utility companies provides residents with more clarity in their own neighborhoods.
“Our goal is to make sure that the people of West Virginia are safe when they have fires and that the fire hydrants work,” she said.
A hearing was scheduled for Monday afternoon in front of Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey regarding the Cavender-WVAWC case.