West Springfield fire officials have reported two malfunctioning fire hydrants to the Water Department after their failure to work caused a delay fighting a fire Saturday night.
Firefighters responded to a multi-family home just before 11 p.m.
By then, flames were already rapidly spreading, but the situation took an even worse turn when the fight was temporarily halted.
"You actually feel useless, you're radioing back that there's no water, there's a dead hydrant, and then you try and find another hydrant hoping that another truck coming in is going to grab a hydrant," said Fire Chief William Flaherty.
He described the frustrating scene at 43 Fairview Ave. 48 hours after the fire nearly consumed the multi-family home, leaving 10 homeless.
The three engines and ladder company that responded were left temporarily useless after a series of malfunctioning hydrants.
"You actually feel useless or hopeless," he said.
That's exactly how Marlan Smith felt when he arrived to see the third story apartment he shares with his parents engulfed in flames.
"I was overwhelmed," he said, "the first thing I thought about was my parents."
When firefighters responded, the water pressure at the hydrant near Union street was not sufficient. Firefighters moved to the hydrant directly across the street from the burning building, but a stem broke, forcing them to move elsewhere. Finally, a hydrant near Main st. worked.
"That whole delay just let the fire spread rapidly coming across the roof," Flaherty said.
Nearly 15 minutes passed until firefighters were able to get water directly into the fire.
It was 15 minutes too long for residents like Smith.
"They need to do a check-up to even see if these things are working," he said.
Flaherty agrees. He said that a private company hired through the Department of Public Works and the Water Department does frequent checks.
"So this was really a surprise to us," he said.
Flaherty sent a report to the department. CBS 3 stopped by City Hall to ask officials why two hydrants on one street failed. Neither department officials nor the mayor were available for comment.
But it's a question residents who lost their homes are eager to have answered.
"It's only materials things, but still, we lost all those memories, pictures, everything," Smith said.
The Water Department opens at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, and CBS 3 will be following up on this story to get these questions answered.
Copyright 2012 WSHM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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