BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Before yesterday, Charles Quigley assumed the hydrant about 40 feet from his front doorstep worked properly. Firefighters assumed it was operational as well when they arrived on scene Sunday to fight a massive fire next door. Turns out, both were wrong. It didn’t work.
And while Quigley believes a working hydrant could have saved his home and prevented the fire from spreading from his neighbor’s home to his own, fire officials say it wouldn’t have mattered.
“Right now, we’re just trying to salvage what we can out of the house. A lot of my mother’s belongings, mementos, stuff like that,” Quigley said. “It’s a family house. It’s been in our family for quite some time. It’s pretty much all we got.”
Quigley was forced to stand and watch on as the raging house fire next door spread to his home. He says had the hydrant across the street been working, his house could have been saved. Instead, he pleaded with firefighters, who he says told him: “We can’t get water. We’re trying to find a water source.”
Buffalo’s public works commissioner, Steven Stepniak, said today the city’s 7,000 hydrants are each inspected every three years. The one across from Quigley’s house on Nevada Avenue was inspected this year. And it worked when it was last used just three days ago, Stepniak said.
Still, the top of the hydrant was painted yellow on Monday, which indicates there’s a problem with it. But when firefighters arrived Sunday, the hydrant was painted as if nothing was wrong.
Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield, Jr. said the hydrant’s malfunction — a broken thread in the nozzle — had no impact on fighting the fire.
“These are mechanical systems,” Whitfield said. “They’re prone to failure eventually.
(On Sunday) “we used our ladder pipes. They have to be hooked up to sufficient water. The hydrant located across the street would not have supplied them.”
Whitfield said hydrant problems are rare. And short of the existing inspection program, little can be done to predict a malfunction.
“I think the residents in this community can feel very much at ease about the condition of the hydrants,” he said.
“For him to say that, it’s totally unbelievable,” Quigley said. “It’s totally unbelievable. For him to say there was no delay … there was absolutely a delay. A crucial delay. A crucial delay that could have minimized the damage to this property.”
Whitfield said the department is investigating yesterday’s fire as suspicious, and, as of Monday evening, had not ruled out arson as the cause. Still, he said the investigation will be difficult, considering most of the home was reduced to ashes.