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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City

Fire Hydrants Take Center Stage In Lake City
City Manager Johnson's claims - dubious

It was a bumpy ride in City Hall last night as Lake City, City Manager, Wendell Johnson was all over the road trying to explain away the City's Fire hydrant issues. City Manager Johnson, unable to defend his written remarks and the City's apparent inadvertent neglect of its 643 fire hydrants in the County, went on the attack, called your reporter a liar and claimed that he was threatened by him. The City Manager's desperate and wacky remarks are nonsense, and deserve no further comment -- let's look at the facts.

Yesterday's lead article in the Observer was titled:

Lake City Owns 643 Fire Hydrants In Columbia County.
In 2008 it stopped inspecting them and didn't tell anybody.

Nationally recognized safety codes require that fire hydrants be inspected yearly.

Last night CM Johnson said that he never mentioned that there were 600 City fire hydrants in the County.

643 uninspected fire hydrants - unsafe?

Links:
City Manager Johnson's letter to County Manager Dale Williams is here. (Emphasis added)

• Confidence Testing Fire Hydrants: See what it takes to inspect a fire hydrant.

In a letter dated April 26, 2011, City Manager Johnson wrote to County Manager Dale Williams, "There are 643 City-owned hydrants within the unincorporated area."

After another couple of sentences the City Manager continued:

 "The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards require all public fire hydrants to be maintained and inspected on a regular basis. The City performs annual inspections on hydrants within the City limits for the purpose of complying with these standards and to ensure a high degree of confidence that the hydrants will perform properly in an emergency." (Emphasis added)

Last night the Observer asked: I was wondering in regards to the fact that there are almost 650 uninspected fire hydrants in the County, if the City plans on doing the maintenance on those and then billing the City [County]... This is a basically unsafe situation...

City Manager Johnson said, "That's not true, Stew. That's your assumption. There is no unsafe situation with the fire hydrants in the City or the County. That's an assumption on your part."

It was clear that the City was not and had not been doing required safety inspections on its fire hydrants located within the County, when on April 26, 2011, CM Johnson continued in his letter to County Manager Williams:

"It appears that the 643 hydrants located outside the City limits have not been inspected during the last five year period and this condition should be viewed by all with a great deal of concern." (Emphasis added)

City Manager Johnson then claimed, contrary to what the Observer had previously learned, "The City's been inspecting the fire hydrants, not in accordance with the NFPA, as far as going out and doing a formal inspection based on greasin the -- all that. Technicians go out every six months and flush every fire hydrant in the City and in the County. We've been doing that all along."

City Manager Johnson wanted to set the record straight

After the meeting, City Manager Johnson wanted to set the record straight and asked the Observer to meet with him for a few moments in his office.

Mr. Johnson said, regarding the remarks of the County Manager and the Fire Chief in the story the day before, "They told you things that weren't exactly true. In 2008 the County did agree to maintain those fire hydrants out in the County."

Claiming that he never mentioned there were 600 plus City fire hydrants in the County, CM Johnson said that he met in January with the County Fire Chief, Trey Atkinson. CM Johnson said he told the Chief that there were problems and that the fire hydrants are not being inspected, because the County's thinking the City's inspecting them and the City's thinking the County's inspecting them. Johnson said, "That's what my chiefs told me."

City Manager Johnson took further exception to the remarks of the County Manager and the Fire Chief. Mr. Johnson told the Observer that it was asinine what you printed in your article about what Dale and Trey said, "We did it for our convenience -- it's asinine that they would say something like that."

The Observer asked, "Can I write that?"

CM Johnson replied, "There is no such thing as off the record."

CM Johnson continued, "Those hydrants are for the exclusive use of the County. That's all there is to it. They take water from them when they want to. They don't track it. If they do they're not telling us. Those issues have to be addressed."

Epilogue

The City Fire Protection Ordinance passed last night. It goes like this:

(a)  Annual fire protection charges are hereby established to defray the city's fire hydrant maintenance and inspection costs. Fees payable under this section are established by separate resolution of the City Council.
(b) Annual fire protection fees under this section apply to public or private fire hydrants located outside of the incorporated city boundaries which are connected to the city's water distribution system and privately owned fire hydrants within the city limits that are connected to the city utility's water distribution system. (Emphasis added)

City Manager Johnson thought that he had found a way to make a quick buck from the County by charging them for the maintenance of the City fire hydrants in the unincorporated area (the County).

The County balked and the City Manager changed his tune.

During the meeting the Observer asked: Do you have any idea when the resolution is going to be passed with the fees?

City Manager Johnson answered: I don't know that there will be a resolution. This process has to go through a very methodical process... I don't know where this is going to go, but I do know that I can work with the County to come up to an amicable resolution.

Let's hope so before somebody dies.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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There are a lot of parts inside a modern fire hydrant.