A roomful of citizens gathered at Tuesday evening’s town council meeting to air concerns about a house fire last month on Elliott Drive. Nearby residents claim there aren’t enough fire hydrants in the area, and the ones that are present aren’t in good condition.
In contrast, town officials contended that there are enough fire hydrants, and that they were recently inspected and were shown to be in good working order.
What led to this?
Though residents said they’ve long had concerns about the fire hydrants in the Manville area, their concerns came to a head on Sept. 14, when a house fire occurred at 126 Elliott Drive.
While the house’s elderly female occupant was rescued by a few community men, the house itself sustained significant damage, residents said, due to the fire hydrants not functioning properly.
What did the residents say?
Selma Anderson said there have been four house fires in the Manville community in the last two years, and in each case the house was destroyed. Nine other citizens spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, each one expressing concerns about the existing fire hydrants.
Some residents also claimed that responding fire trucks from the Gate City Volunteer Fire Department did not have water on them at the time of the house fire. Town officials said that concern would need to be brought up with Fire Chief Jeff Brickey, who was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We need to hear the truth of what’s going on and get down to the root of the problem. … These homes are going up in flames,” said Ellen Bailey, a Manville community resident, “and we don’t know what to do.”
How did the council respond?
Town Manager Greg Jones repeatedly said that the fire hydrants were not working properly the night of the house fire due to a power outage that occurred an hour before. According to a report provided by Jones, the power outage disabled the water pump that was responsible for creating water pressure on the Manville water line, leading to low water pressure from the hydrants.
The fire hydrants in question were tested by a third party on Oct. 10 and were shown to be functioning, according to documents included in Jones’ report. However, council member Wallace Ross read a letter from the fire department, dated July 1, 2019, requesting that one of the fire hydrants — located on Manville Road near Chestnut Street — be “reinstalled.”
Jones and some of the council members said they didn’t recall seeing that letter, which was addressed to the water department, before Tuesday’s meeting.
Council members voted to hold an emergency called meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 6:30 p.m. at town hall to discuss the issue again, this time with Brickey in attendance to represent the fire department.
“You’ve got the fire department involved, you’ve got the town involved, you’ve got the community involved,” said council member Allan “Cotton” Roberts. “Let’s get it resolved.”