Water problems hampered firefighters’ effort to battle a five-alarm blaze in Lawrence Saturday. As a result, three homes were destroyed and three families were displaced.
Lawrence officials have known for years about low water pressure and poorly functioning hydrants in the city. Yet little has been done to fix the problem. That has to change. People’s lives and property are at risk.
Saturday’s fire spread its destruction quickly.
When firefighters arrived at 112 Hancock St., flames were already coming through the roof and had begun to spread to the buildings on either side.. But firefighters quickly encountered water problems, Deputy Fire Chief John Marsh told reporter Bill Kirk. Firefighters didn’t even bother with a brand-new hydrant near the burning buildings.
“We tried it later and a little water came out,” Marsh said.
Instead, firefighters called in pumper trucks from area fire departments which were able to tie into hydrants on Water Street and pump water up to the fire scene.
Setting up the pump relay obviously took more time than connecting into a functioning hydrant at the fire scene would have.
“If we had better water, we could have saved the third house,” Marsh said.
Fortunately, no residents or firefighters were injured in the blaze. Two pets — a dog and a bird — were lost.
The shortage of functioning hydrants in this neighborhood should be a matter of great concern. The neighborhood is densely populated and many of the buildings are older, wooden structures.
The Hennessey School is adjacent to the fire scene and the Guilmette School is not far away. What if fire were to strike one of these schools and children’s lives were at risk due to the poor water supply?
The City Council plans to address the water pressure problems as an emergency measure at tonight’s meeting. Councilors want a review of the functioning of all city fire hydrants.
“This should be a no-brainer for us to get that going, to figure out what’s working and what isn’t ... There is no reason this should be a last-minute type of dance,” Daniel Rivera, at-large city councilor and a candidate for mayor, told reporter Jill Harmacinski.
But this isn’t a “last-minute” issue at all. Water problems have plagued Lawrence firefighters for years.
In 2012, Fire Chief Jack Bergeron was telling the City Council that money needed to be spent to fix problems with low water pressure. In December 2010, water problems hampered the fight against a house fire on Bellevue Street. Similar problems in June 2010 occurred during a house fire on Park Street that displaced 50 people. It goes on and on.
The City Council and members of Mayor William Lantigua’s administration will talk about low water pressure and non-functioning hydrants again tonight. But talk is cheap. It’s time to do something to fix the problem before tragedy strikes.