12/23/12 — Fire chief: Water pressure downtown no problem

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Fire chief: Water pressure downtown no problem

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on December 23, 2012 1:50 AM

Despite claims made by those at Monday's meeting of the Goldsboro City Council, Fire Chief Gary Whaley said the water pressure downtown is sufficient and doesn't have a negative effect on his department's ability to fight fires.

Three speakers advocating for the continuation of the Center Street Streetscape project south into the next two blocks referenced infrastructure needs downtown as reasons for the project to be extended, specifically noting that the nearly century-old water pipes beneath the street decreased the city's ability to extinguish flames and made sprinkler systems obsolete.

Whaley said Thursday that the characterization of the city's water pressure was a bit exaggerated, although he said his department would welcome infrastructure investment downtown or anywhere in the city.

"We're not in a crisis with water. It's not like downtown is any different from anywhere else in the city," he said. "But we like to see water lines replaced."

As far as the sprinkler systems downtown, Whaley said the city doesn't permit developers to install systems where they are not usable.

He said every building, especially in the historic district, is different, with factors weighing in on sprinkler system capabilities. Those that present the most difficult issues often do so because of elevation.

The Waynesborough House, for instance, requires a booster pump so that water collected from the main pipes can be pumped up to its higher floors.

Whaley said the only issue with a sprinkler system that he was aware of was one on Mulberry Street. That inefficiency is in the process of being fixed, he said.

He also said there was no indication of truth in suggestions that the lack of water pressure downtown may have factored into the Paramount Theatre and Wayne Memorial Community Building fires, both of which saw large buildings mostly burn to the ground.

Whaley, who was in command the night of the Paramount fire, said there was an initial problem with water, but that it was a case whereby a valve was only partially open, reducing the water pressure. Firefighters ran extra lines out to a hydrant on another grid to bring water in and were able to contain the fire, saving both buildings adjacent to it on Center Street.

He said that when the trucks left Fire Station No. 1, located one block south of the theater, there were already 30-foot flames leaping from the facade of the building, so there was little hope of saving the building regardless of response time, water pressure or other factors.

He was involved in the Community Building fire and said he didn't recall there being any problems with water.

What's more, he pointed out that the department's snorkel trucks have the ability to carry water anywhere, just as rural fire departments do. If there was a large emergency whereby water supply was a concern, trucks from the county could be brought in to help.

Whaley said hydrants are tested annually for flow and any issues identified are dealt with then, but stressed that there were no concerns with downtown water supplies as far as firefighting abilities were concerned.

"We're in a position to fight fires," he said. "New water lines would aid that, but, based on our hydrant flows, there's no crisis."