Investigates

The importance of hydrant flushing and how often it happens in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — When a home catches fire, every minute matters. Firefighters rely on fire hydrants at the scene to put out the fire quickly. But when the equipment fails, the results can be devastating.

Over the years, Channel 11 has shown you the aftermath of some of these fires. For example, a home in Buffington near Uniontown was destroyed in October 2022. The roof collapsed. Firefighters trying to put out the blaze were hindered by nearby hydrants that weren’t working properly.

Just this March, Jeanette firefighters fought desperately to put out a house fire but had trouble getting enough water from the closest hydrant.

“The first hydrant that we hit gave us a little bit of water but not even enough to make it up the hill to the scene,” said Chief Billy Frye.

A father and four of his children died in that fire.

Local officials said the hydrants had been checked within six to eight months of the fire occurring and did not name an exact reason for the hydrant not providing enough water.

Routine maintenance can help prevent similar tragedies. This time of year, you’ll see people like Joseph Reffert making stops at fire hydrants around the area.

Reffert is a valve and hydrant specialist for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

“We take it very, very serious because we can understand the possible outcomes that could happen if, you know, if you don’t go by the steps,” Reffert said. “We take advantage of the weather as much as possible. That way we can get done with as many as hydrants as possible.”

He walked us through the process of hydrant flushing. It takes about 20 minutes but can take longer if there’s an issue with the quality of the water. First, a technician flushes the hydrant. The goal is to remove any sediment or debris that has built up over time. They also run a pressure check to make sure the right amount of water is coming out of the hydrant. And they grease the nozzles so the hydrant easily opens when needed.

“The inspections go hand-in-hand with public safety,” said Rebecca Zito, senior manager of public affairs for PWSA. “You might think that it’s very wasteful. But what we’re actually doing is a water quality test on the system.”

Zito said PWSA maintains about 7,500 fire hydrants. It is required to flush a third of those hydrants each year.

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