Firefighters request hydrant expansion to protect lives, property

Published 3:24 pm Friday, May 3, 2024

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

Concerns from Crenshaw County volunteer firefighters over rural fire protection took center stage during the April 25 meeting of the Crenshaw County Water Authority board.

The discussion, spearheaded by Bullock Volunteer Fire Department Chief Harrison Weed, centered around the need to install fire hydrants and expand coverage throughout the quickly expanding community. 

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LeAnn Wilcox raised a concern about past issues with hydrant maintenance, Wilcox, who is water authority system manager, pledged improvements but urged the board to “do better” for the safety of county citizens.

 “I read an article from 2008, about some folks from Searight attending a board meeting where they expressed similar concerns,” Weed said. “The board was quoted several times saying that you all are not in the fire protection business and I agree. But our job as volunteer firefighters is fire protection, and we’ve done a poor job maintaining and testing these hydrants in the past. I think it is time our fire departments and our fire association stepped up and did better with this.”

Weed presented comprehensive pressure and flow rate data he compiled over the last year, indicating sufficient water pressure and flow rates to support additional hydrants in the South Crenshaw Water Authority coverage area. 

“We’ve reached a point where the community has expanded, and it’s time to act so that we can do the best job possible when it comes to providing fire protection for homes, property and lives,” Weed said. “We want to get some help with installing a few more fire hydrants so we can increase our coverage and we’re willing to do whatever it will take to get to that point.”

Board members raised concerns about associated costs, maintenance and effects on the area water supply. Financial constraints pose a significant hurdle, as explained by board member Andy Compton who highlighted exorbitant price increases on pipes and all related materials. 

The estimated cost of a new fire hydrant, excluding additional items and labor, stands at $3,700. With each new hydrant potentially costing $5,000 or more total, financial sustainability remains the key consideration, asserted Compton. He encouraged further exploration of the issue at hand and future collaboration between the board and fire departments. 

Incidents like the recent fire at the Brantley recycle center illuminated concerns about future water availability during emergencies as mentioned by board member Jerry Stricklin. Stricklin emphasized the strains on the water system, citing incidents that temporarily depleted water resources.

Wilcox expressed concerns about potential damage to the water system, something that can happen during emergency situations. Weed stressed the importance of effective collaboration between firefighters and the water authority.

Both sides agreed to improve communication and establish clearer responsibilities through an unofficial memorandum of understanding to address the challenges posed by population growth and infrastructure demands. The meeting concluded with a commitment to further explore the issue with water authority engineers and to collaborate on future projects.

All board members were present and included George Bryan, Andy Compton, Reggie Green, Tom Purdue, Jerry Stricklin and LeAnn Wilcox. Also present were figures from various volunteer fire departments including Brantley Volunteer Fire Department Chief Keith Morgan, Weed, Dozier Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chase Burnette and Springhill Volunteer firefighter Pat Waldrip.

The South Crenshaw Water Authority board meets every fourth Thursday.