Detroit still has more than 600 broken fire hydrants

City leaders set goal to repair 1,300 broken fire hydrants in 30 days

DETROIT – Detroit city leaders promised to fix 1,300 broken fire hydrants within a month after a Local 4 investigation revealed the extent of the problem.

The city approved a $7 million contract to repair hydrants and pay for crews to do the work. At first, the city said Local 4 could follow the crews out and show them making repairs. However, after the Local 4 story aired, Karen Drew was told that officials didn’t like the way the story turned out and would not work with Local 4 in getting video of crews fixing the broken hydrants.

Read: How 1K broken fire hydrants across Detroit could be putting your home, business at risk

This story began when a firefighter reached out to Local 4 and reported that broken fire hydrants in Detroit were a big issue. Local 4 found out that around 1,300 were broken and residents were upset.

One month ago, Local 4 spoke to Gary Brown, the Director of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), which is in charge of maintaining hydrants. Brown said that the city had a goal of fixing all of the broken fire hydrants in 30 days.

An insider within the fire department shared a record with Local 4 that showed which hydrants were still broken. As of Wednesday, more than 600 fire hydrants are still listed as inoperable.

Some of those fire hydrants are pouring water into the streets. A hydrant off Rosa Parks Boulevard was running for days, according to a source. The city said the hydrant was in their work order system, and they were fixing around 80 each day.

Karen Drew asked, “But this is in an area with residents. I just don’t understand how it can be broken. The water is coming out in the street for four days -- that is not a priority?” Karen Drew was willing to do an on-camera interview if they changed their minds, but officials only provided a statement.

Read: Detroit dedicates $7M to fix broken fire hydrants across the city

Brown and Charles Simms, Interim Executive Fire Commissioner of the Detroit Fire Department, issued the following joint statement:

“The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) maintains fire hydrants while the Detroit Fire Department (DFD) inspects the hydrants annually and uses them for fire suppression. Detroit has more density of fire hydrants than any other major Midwest city. Our counterparts have fire hydrants 500-feet apart, while in Detroit hydrants are 300-feet apart. DFD rigs have 1,500 feet of fire hose. Therefore, if a hydrant is out of service for repair, they can quickly hook up to the next available hydrant. Firefighters are able to see available hydrants using a mobile-friendly dashboard.

“It is normal for us to see a slight increase in the number of hydrants that need repair - many of which are still operational - after DFD conducts its winter inspections. This is a process that allows us to know where a non-functioning hydrant may be located so it can be repaired BEFORE it is needed by firefighters. Numbers change daily but what we know is that 96% of our nearly 30,000 hydrants are operational today, still giving Detroiters a greater density of hydrants than other midwestern city. At this time last year, approximately 7% of our hydrants were in need of repair and by summer it was down to less than 2%.

“DWSD starts with priority one repairs which are in critical areas such as near hospitals, nursing homes and schools, as well as clusters of hydrants in need of repair to make sure there is a working hydrant available for emergencies. For more than six years, DWSD has performed the winter repairs and by spring/summer less than 2% of the hydrants are inoperable.

“It is misleading to the public to not include these facts in news stories. This process happens annually due to inspections and cold weather, when the number of hydrants in need of repair increases. DWSD makes fire hydrant maintenance a priority, much like we do water main breaks that place our residents and businesses temporarily without water service. The public can be assured that the City of Detroit has a collaborative process to address hydrants in need of repair all year round.

“Since the week of Jan. 23, DWSD crews and our contractor have been repairing 350 fire hydrants per week and will be complete in two weeks with the current list of inoperable hydrants.”

What about the fire hydrant pouring water into the street?

But what about that fire hydrant on the city’s west side that was spewing water into the street?

“So it’s OK to just let this water go into the street and have people pay for it?” Karen Drew asked.

“Well, people don’t pay for it as they are charged for the water -- they are charged based on the meter usage at their house,” Brown said.

“I understand that, but at the end of the day, taking water and spewing it into the street is a waste,” Drew said.

The city would not budge. They continued to say the hydrant was not a priority. After Drew hung up, officials did ask for the address of the hydrant. Officials sent a crew to shut the water off, but they did not fix the hydrant.

“We’re in a constant worry about it because of how lacking our water department is with repairs. They absolutely have affected us fighting a fire because when we go to a bad hydrant, we then have to go to the next hydrant, which is approximately 500 feet away, so that takes up time to get there, and there have been instances of three or four bad hydrants in a row, and that further delays us. Fire doubles in size approximately every 35 to 45 seconds, so time does matter,” a Detroit firefighter said.

Text on image with statement from a Detroit firefighter: "We're in a constant worry about it because of how lacking our water department is with repairs. They absolutely have affected us fighting a fire because when we go to a bad hydrant, we then have to go to the next hydrant which is approximately 500 feet away, so that takes up time to get there. There have been instances of three to four bad hydrants in a row and that further delays us. Fires double in size every 35 to 45 seconds, so time does matter and being able to get water out of the hydrants is imperative for us." (WDIV)

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s spokesperson John Roach released the following statement:

”In December, the Mayor sat down with Gary Brown and told him he wanted a plan to speed up fire hydrant repairs. Director Brown immediately assigned DWSD staff to begin repairs supported by a $7 million plan to supplement those efforts with outside contractors implemented in January.

“The plan would complete the repairs by the end of February. At the start of each Wednesday cabinet meeting, Director Brown begins by reporting to the Mayor the number of fire hydrant repairs made the previous week. In yesterday’s report, Director Brown indicated 350 repairs had been made last week, fewer than 700 hydrant repairs are remaining, and he expects those to be repaired in the next two weeks.

“He indicated that of 30,000 fire hydrants in the city, more than 29,000 are operable today. We expect the entire backlog to be completed in the next two weeks and from then going forward, we expect hydrants to be repaired timely on an ongoing basis.”

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.