(8/16/2003) That moniker could apply to this
northern Frederick County hamlet. After all, the National Fire
Academy and the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial are just
outside town. They make Emmitsburg a place frequented by top
firefighting professionals around the world.
But once you cross the town line, the
story changes. The Vigilant Hose Co. occasionally is hampered
when trying to access a vital firefighting resource -- water.
Parts of Emmitsburg have unusable fire
hydrants. Black tops remind firefighters that a hydrant can't
or shouldn't be used because problems with water lines or
outdated designs have rendered them ineffective or obsolete.
Several of the useless hydrants dot Seton Avenue, some sitting
just a short distance from the fire academy campus.
Though the system isn't functioning
fully, the inoperable hydrants apparently don't make
Emmitsburg a fire trap. Frank Davis, chief of Vigilant Hose,
said working hydrants sit close to nonworking ones.
Firefighters would be delayed "maybe a minute" while running
extra hose to reach a working hydrant, he said, but he
admitted that such a delay could cost a life.
"It's not an ideal situation," the
chief said, "but we've adapted."
Still, town leaders believe it's an
adaptation firefighters shouldn't have to make, and they're
taking steps to make the system fully operational.
Mayor Jim Hoover said residents on subpar lines
aren't getting proper service from the town, and they haven't
for years. To him, the improvements can't come quick enough.
"This problem is over 20 years old,"
he said, "and we've done very little until recently ... to
solve those problems."
Part of the hydrant problem is being
addressed now. Jim Click, the town's streets and parks
superintendent and the fire company's deputy chief, said
old-style hydrants that won't accept modern fire fittings are
being replaced gradually. Five outdated hydrants remain in the
town, he said.
The biggest problem is with old,
neglected water lines. Replacing those pipes will take years
and cost town water and sewer customers about $1 million.
Town Manager David Haller said some of
Emmitsburg's water pipes are 50 to 60 years old. Installed by
the private company that ran the water system before the town
bought it, those 4-inch mains now might allow only a 2-inch
stream of water because of rust and oxidation buildup.
That's the case for 10 hydrants, most
of them on South Seton and North Seton. The rest are along
Mountain View Road, which is outside the town limits but was
on the water system when it was purchased.
The Waynesboro Pike line, another
out-of-town system the town inherited, also has problems. No
timetable is set for its replacement.
Because of the establishment of a
water and sewer enterprise fund two years ago, the town has
funding for line replacement projects. With partial help from
Mountain View residents,
Emmitsburg will replace the line on that road next year.
In 2005, South Seton Avenue's line is
slated to be replaced. The North Seton line, which would've
been replaced by a developer this year or next if the Silver
Fancy annexation hadn't been defeated in a referendum vote, is
on the drawing board for 2006.
The town also is repairing a sewer
trunk line, Mr. Haller said, meaning it will have three
projects going on simultaneously at times.
"That's very aggressive for more
municipalities and extremely aggressive for the pace
Emmitsburg had experienced," he said.
Dan Fissel, the town's water and sewer
systems superintendent, said that once the new lines are in
place, corrosion control efforts should prevent the pipes from
"Theoretically," he said, "they'll
never be in the shape they're in now once they're replaced."
But until those new pipes are in the
ground, residents must rely on a far-from-perfect system.
Emmitsburg's been lucky for some time.
Mr. Davis, a Vigilant firefighter for 25 years and the
company's chief for the last 13, said the town has had homes
burn over the years but hasn't had a major fire. The last big
blaze he could recall was when a
bowling alley on Main Street burned in the 1960s.
Cities and towns apparently experience
problems similar to Emmitsburg's with some frequency. Tom
Olshanski, spokesman for the National Fire Academy, said
metropolitan areas face a lot of water delivery challenges,
and sections sometimes are shut down for maintenance or other
reasons. Fire trucks have regularly updated lists of
"In any community," he said, "hydrants
are on and off service all the time."
Aside from the hydrant issues, which
he thinks were ignored for too long, Mr. Davis said the town
has a great system. It provides better volume and pressure
than most small communities, he said.
Emmitsburg has taken steps to ensure
it can get water to hydrants at crucial times. Mr. Fissel said
that if the water volume or pressure dips below certain
levels, which could happen in a fire, an emergency pressure
valve should open and send as much as 100,000 gallons would
flow into the town's system from the water supply at Mount St.
As subdivisions pop up around the
town, hydrants have been added in spots where coverage was
weak. Still, problem areas remain.
Though state funds could hasten the
line replacement, Mr. Hoover said it's not the state's
responsibility. The town created the problem by neglecting the
lines, he said, so it shouldn't depend on the state to bail it
out. Maryland will help by providing construction loans for
The mayor surmised that the water
delivery system "was allowed to deteriorate and depreciate
because it was kind of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind. It's
buried in the ground.
"But the system is 70-plus years old.
You can't with a good conscience believe the delivery system
is in good shape, and ignoring that hasn't benefited anybody."
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