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I-Team: Holyoke house fire exposed major issue with water infrastructure

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HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – A fire destroyed a house in Holyoke last month, exposing a major problem with the city’s fire hydrants.

The 22News I-Team found out there are numerous hydrants that have this same issue.

Holyoke’s water department said there is nothing wrong with the actual hydrant on Fairfield Avenue, it’s the water main’s pipes underground that are the problem.

The pipes are more than 100-years-old, smaller than the current standard, and have so much rust built up, that the hydrant supplies significantly less water.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse told the 22News, they’ve come up with a solution so that firefighters know exactly which hydrants have this problem.

“What we are working on now is making sure the fire department has a comprehensive map and system of communication between the two departments, so that they know exactly which hydrants can handle a fire of that magnitude,” said Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.

“No resident of the city or business owner should ever have to worry that in case of a fire we don’t have adequate water to put out that fire,” he continued.

Springfield is another city with aging water infrastructure. The Water and Sewer Commission inspects hydrants and water mains continuously, and they’ve found quite a few that need replacement.

“We still have pretty old water mains,” said Jayme Bartak, Communications Manager for the Springfield Water & Sewer Commission. “We have 500 miles worth of our water distribution system and we get at it bit by bit each year, but we are an old city. It’s going to take many years to replace it all.”

Fire hydrants are not only essential for firefighting efforts, they also impact the cost of your homeowners insurance. If a hydrant is beyond the standard of 1,000 feet from your home, there’s a good chance you’ll pay a higher home-owners insurance premium. But there are other factors.

“More of it has to do with the town that you’re in and the level of protection of the town’s fire department,” Bill Trudeau, Vice President for HUB New England explained.

Trudeau told the 22News I-Team there are rural communities that have no hydrants at all, so firefighters are forced to bring water in from lakes and ponds.

Holyoke will spend more than $6 million to upgrade old hydrants and water mains in the city. Fairfield Avenue and other historic neighborhoods are scheduled to be done first. They hope to have the entire project completed by 2023.

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