Questions Rise From New Baltimore House Fire Ashes
New Baltimore Water Department says subdivision elevation was key reason water pressure was low.
Several concerned New Baltimore residents questioned this week why firefighters experienced low water pressure while battling a house fire in their subdivision.
The Hidden Ridge homeowners asked Water Superintendent Andy Messina if the system is defective in light of the blaze caused by lightning on Danielle Street. No one was injured in the fire.
Messina said during the Monday night City Council meeting at Anchor Bay Middle School North that elevation in that neighborhood off 25 Mile Road is to blame.
"They're always going to have the lowest pressure in town because of the elevation," he said. "I believe it's a 20-foot difference between Green Street and 24 Mile ... They're located on the spot of town that's the highest."
But some homeowners say they're only 12 feet higher than the base of the water tower off 24 Mile and the height of their land should not have caused such low pressure.
The pressure problems meant fire crews from all over the area utilized water tankers from Ira Township Fire Department and accessed Chesterfield Township hydrants to fight the flames. Fire officials say the total delay was about 5-6 minutes while some residents argued it was more like 20.
At the meeting, Messina responded to questions about valves leading into the sub and how they affected pressure before and after the blaze.
He said that the department's monthly water samples previously showed problematic chlorine levels in the sub, causing closure of one valve six months ago. That valve was reopened during the fire, he said.
“They have two valves that feed that sub—an 8-inch off of 25 Mile and a 6-inch off Ridge (Road). And, we had to close the one on Ridge because the chlorine levels were dropping,” he told Patch. “We turned that one back on ... but it didn’t make much of a difference; that’s a relatively small valve.”
He pointed out the hydrant in the sub is powered by the main on 25 Mile.
Councilman Karl Rutledge, who questioned whether there are water system flaws, wondered, "Can we have a repeat of that same problem?"
In response to criticism the house could have been saved if it wasn't for water pressure woes, New Baltimore Fire Chief Ken Lawfield said, "Would there have been any less damage? That's a maybe."
Lawfield said the fire was fully involved in the attic by the time crews were called to the scene. He called the spacious house a "lumberyard in the sky" due to "lightweight construction that burns readily."
Messina said tests he and Lawfield did immediately after the fire showed the hydrant was only pumping 920 gallons per minute—well below the 1,500 gallons it should have been pumping. There was 40 pounds of pressure for residential use in the sub, which he says is adequate for home use. He noted the sub is in close proximity to Chesterfield Township, which has nearby hydrants to access in the event of another fire.