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WNCN Investigates

Raleigh using new technology to track aging hydrants

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A year ago, WNCN covered an apartment fire in Raleigh. A broken fire hydrant dating back 70 years prevented firefighters from getting to the blaze faster and possibly saving the apartment from destruction.

Since then, we've been asking questions, and staying on top of the city to see what improvements they've made to make sure the more 20,000 hydrants in the city are working properly.

"We try to get them once a year," said one of the men of Raleigh's public utilities department. WNCN Investigates followed crews as they checked on residential hydrants.

On any given day, they are inspecting 20 to 25 of the city's 21,000. They say most just need a little elbow grease. Others, we found, are in poorer shape.

"This one was low on oil. It's really hard to operate," said one of the inspectors. And that could pose a problem for firefighters in a hurry.

Since WNCN first learned of that faulty hydrant in last year's fire, a lot has been done says the man in charge.

"We've nearly doubled the staff to maintain these fire hydrants," said Whit Wheeler, Assistant Public Utilities Director for the City of Raleigh.

There are now 10 inspectors on the job. And new technology that is potentially saving lives.

The city is now using tablets, which they distributed to fire departments. The tablets allow firefighters to punch in hydrants that aren't working. The utilities crews can then respond quickly and fix the problem.

WNCN Investigates looked into what neighborhoods were of most concern.

Newer developments with more current safety codes have more hydrants with older neighborhoods seeing them spaced further apart.

And the older the block, the older the hydrant.

So we went to one of Raleigh's oldest neighborhoods and found an out of service hydrant.

And a mom, two doors down, with no idea her home was at immediate risk until we told her. (There was an "out of service" tag placed on the hydrant to notify firefighters in case of a fire)

"I would certainly rather have a working hydrant in front of my house," she said.

But Wheeler says the majority of hydrants in the city are in working order. And those that aren't, will be fixed.

"Our guys try to have a 24-hour turnaround on repairing those hydrants," he said.

In fact, he says, since our last story a year ago, more than 900 hydrants have been repaired and 130 replaced. Old ones from the 40s and 50s have been mostly replaced.  

Needed progress, when every second counts 


The City of Raleigh says you can help report hydrants that aren't working or that have been struck by cars. You can call: 919-996-4540.

It's important to note, not everyone has a hydrant in their neighborhood, especially if you live outside city limits.

So here are some tips to protect your home on your own:

- If using a fire extinguisher, stay 6 feet from the flames so you don't torch the rest of your house by air-blasting a fire across the room.

- Also, make sure your address is clearly marked on your mailbox. Reducing response time will be critical since firefighters are already dealing with a lack of water sources near your home.



Jonathan Carlson

Jonathan is an investigative reporter and anchor with over a decade of experience. Jonathan has broken stories that have resulted in local and statewide change. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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