By Ralph Ellis
For the second time in less than a year, a fire that destroyed a multi-family dwelling has raised questions about how fire hydrants in Sandy Springs are inspected.
An April 19 kitchen fire burned 11 families out of their homes at a two-story condo building on Winding River Drive. Sandy Springs Fire Marshal Jeff Scarbrough said one hydrant didn’t work and that firefighters quickly found a second, working hydrant. But residents said three hydrants near the building didn’t work, delaying the fire department’s response time.
“I’m really distressed because there was no reason for it to get that far,” resident Ken Hamlett said of the fire. “It should have been contained to the first floor, in my opinion.”
Non-working hydrants became an issue when a July 12 fire at The Falls apartments on Spring Creek Lane burned 20 units. A hydrant at the site didn’t work, causing firefighters to hook up to another hydrant on Roswell Road, about 1,000 feet away.
Though Sandy Springs contracts with American Flow Services to inspect 3,300 “public” hydrants on city rights-of-way, the hydrant in the Winding River Drive fire is on private property and was not inspected by the firm, Scarbrough said.
Scarbrough said private property owners are responsible for having their hydrants inspected. But the Access Management Group, which has managed Winding River Village since last August, is not sure they are responsible, said Tracy Umphenour, the Winding River Village property manager. She said attorneys are checking land records to see if the hydrants are on public right-of-way. Because the Atlanta Watershed Management agency quickly repaired the hydrants, she thinks the hydrants are public, she said.
“We have no concrete evidence they were ours to maintain,” she said. “In the past, we were told it’s a public street.”
Janet Ward, spokeswoman for Atlanta Watershed Management, said the agency repaired four hydrants near the condo building after the fire. Cars had struck three hydrants and somebody using the wrong wrench damaged another hydrant, she said.
If American Flow Services reports hydrant problems, “we fix them within a week,” she said. She said Atlanta fixed the four hydrants after calls from the media.
Scarbrough speculated the building on Winding River Drive was built in the 1970s as apartments, which is why Atlanta still repairs hydrants on the property once problems are discovered. He thinks the property was later converted to condos and the road became private.
“It’s a strange situation,” he said.
Sandy Springs City Councilwoman Dianne Fries said the city needs to make sure all fire hydrants work. She said the city might need to get the private property hydrants inspected and bill the owner.
“That’s something I want to sit down with the chief and the city manager to talk about,” Fries said.
Eric Mosley of American Flow Services said the company didn’t check the hydrants on Winding River Drive because they’re not on a map the city provided. The company would not have gone onto private property anyway, he said.
The explanations are not satisfying residents. “I’ve been told a bunch of different stories,” Beverly Wilson said. “There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on.”
Residents also complained that fire extinguishers didn’t work. Hamlett said he tried to use an extinguisher mounted outside his front door to put out the stove fire in a neighbor’s unit. That extinguisher didn’t work, so he grabbed an extinguisher outside the neighbor’s door. He said that one only sprayed about five seconds.
Umphenour said the management company is not required to maintain the extinguishers.
Fire extinguishers are not required in condos because they are classified as single-family homes, unlike apartments, she said. “Going forward, we will maintain those extinguishers or take them out,” she said.
Resident Cheryl Tubbs said Sandy Springs firefighters tried to get water from three different hydrants at the complex before tapping into one farther away. But Scarbrough said only one hydrant was dry.