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Wednesday, June 23, 2010 • Posted June 23, 2010

When it comes to the preservation of you and your loved ones and your home in case of a fire, the Mason County Volunteer Fire Department is there for your safety. Know they will be there for you as soon as possible to try and prevent, or retard, total destruction of your home. I have personally seen them at work when my home burned down in 2008 and can tell you there are no finer group of individuals walking the face of the planet than our Volunteer Fire Department.

The City of Mason, on the other hand, is charged, under federal law, with making sure our fire hydrants and the water supply to them are in working order so the Volunteers can do that job of protecting you when needed.

What you may not know is around 90% of our city fire hydrants were put installed in the 1940s. In the past, it was common practice for a City of Mason employee to periodically check those hydrants by opening them to insure they would flow water. That practice stopped for several years and, when the issue was brought to the attention of the City Commissioners in 2008, they had the City Parks Attendant begin the process again. This practice stopped a few months later when the employee left the City. But note it was only to "flow" the hydrant.

When I questioned the Mayor as to whose responsibility it was to check our hydrants, I was told it was the Mason County Fire Volunteers. When I asked the Volunteer Fire Chief , I was told because the City did not do their job, he had his people check the hydrants to make sure they worked because he did not want to place his people in harm’s way should they not. When I checked the law, I found out it is, in fact, the City’s responsibility to maintain, inspect, and repair those hydrants. Know this, The City, for several years, has paid an inspector to come in from Fredericksburg, once or twice a week to inspect building construction in Mason. This gentleman, who performs the same duties as your city Building Official, has state credentials that would allow him to inspect fire hydrants. In the 4 years I was with our City, I do not recall him inspecting one hydrant. You, as a citizen, have the right to request a hydrant status report from the city on a hydrant that services your home or place of business. Your home insurance company has a responsibility to raise your rates based upon your home coverage by a fire hydrant.

When I went before the City Commissioners 2 years ago to inform them of the problems with our City fire hydrant system, I was shouted down. My house had burned to the ground in August 2007 and I remember the difficulty our City Water Department Superintendent had in trying to clear my hydrant of silt and stones to finally provide water to the Volunteers’ hoses for what was left of my house.

Before I went to the City Commission, I did research and found our own City hydrant map to be faulty – it shows each house in the city is covered by a hydrant but the scale is off so, in actuality, you are not.

When I worked for the Department of Defense in Alaska, one of my jobs was that of a Fire Protection Systems Supervisor. I was responsible to inspect and insure several Air Force Bases in Alaska had proper fire detection and suppression systems working and in place. This included hydrants, buildings, and aircraft hangars. A failure on my part to insure proper fire protection could cost lives, let alone my job

When I addressed the Commissioners about the hydrant issue, I provided them pictures of hydrants closest to their own homes and, in each case except one, how it would be necessary to provide a pumper truck between the hydrant and their house to get water to it. Their answer to this issue was the new water tower would take care of this. Not only is their answer unacceptable, it is totally incorrect. Remember, hydrants installed in 1940 in a water system installed at the same time using a water so polluted it requires the installation of a new water tower with filtration using the same hydrants should tell you something is really wrong with our system. The picture, for your home, is one that is dismal to say the least. Do not believe me, but talk to your Fire Chief. If you go online and check the National Fire Protection Association you can read the requirements. They were established based upon mistakes made in the past. What will it take for our Commissioners to adhere to the law and insure the safety of their citizens who put them in office?

John Copeland

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