Weak water pressure hurt efforts to fight fire in Holley

Photos by Tom Rivers: A 4,000-square-foot house burns on Sunday night in Holley at 46 West Albion St. Clarendon had its ladder truck in front of the building, but couldn’t get steady water on the house due to a watermain break on Route 31.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 January 2020 at 11:24 am

HOLLEY – Firefighters at the scene of a massive fire on Sunday night were hampered due to low water pressure.

A watermain owned by the Monroe County Water Authority on Route 31A broke earlier in the day. Holley Fire Chief Harris Reed didn’t know about the watermain break.

When firefighters started arriving to the scene of the fire at about 11 p.m., they hooked into hydrants near a 4,000-square-foot house with four apartments.

But the water pressure was weak, far short of what was needed to stop a fire tearing through the house.

“Unfortunately it happened at a time when we needed it the most,” Reed said about the watermain break.

The Kendall Fire Department brought its new pumper-tanker to the scene. The truck at right could carry water and has a nozzle in front to spray the water. The truck had to leave the scene and come back several times to get refilled with water.

If Reed had known about the watermain break, he would have right away put out a mutual aid call for tankers, the fire trucks that typically carry 1,500 to 3,000 gallons of water. He didn’t think the tankers would be needed in the village with fire hydrants. Tankers are typically used in rural areas without hydrants.

When the water flow trickled from the hydrants, Reed put out the call for tankers. But firefighters lost precious time in getting water on the house at the corners of routes 237 and 31.

He praised the Village of Holley Department of Public Works and Town of Murray Highway Department who tried to up the pressure in other water lines near the site.

Firefighters stand back while the house burns. They weren’t able to get much water out of the nearby hydrants. The water from up high from Clarendon’s ladder truck didn’t have much water pressure or volume, said Harris Reed, the Holley fire chief.

Reed said village and fire department officials are discussing the experience and learning from it. They will develop a procedure for notifying the fire department whenever there is a waterline break that could affect the water pressure and volume.

“We will have better procedures because there was a lot of miscommunicating,” he said. “All the way around it was a learning curve for everybody. This has never happened in the village before (with a watermain break during a fire).”

Even if there hadn’t been a watermain break, Reed said the house would have been badly damaged. Perhaps the front one or two apartments could have been saved, he said.

“That’s definitely the largest fire I’ve ever seen in this village,” said Reed, who has been a firefighter with Holley for more than 20 years.

Dale Niehous of the Carlton Volunteer Fire Company speaks with Harris Reed, the Holley fire chief, at the scene. Reed asked nearby fire departments to bring tanker fire trucks to the scene that carry water.

He said firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to two neighboring residences and a garage. All 11 residents in the house safely got out and none of the firefighters were injured, Reed said.

There were 13 fire departments and about 50 firefighters who responded to the scene, with additional help filling in at other fire halls. The Wyoming Correctional Facility also brought a crew of inmates to help roll hoses and clean up fire equipment once the fire was under control. The inmates arrived about 3 a.m. and stayed about three hours.

Firefighters set up dump tanks to fill with water on Route 31. Normally a dump tank is used in a rural area without a public waterline or hydrant.

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