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Firemen not only battled blaze, but low water pressure during recent fire

When firefighters were dispatched to battle a house fire in northwest Cairo during the predawn hours of Saturday, May 22, it turned out firemen had more than a blaze to extinguish – they also had to contend with low water pressure.
Cairo Fire Chief Don Towne, who recently resigned to accept a chief’s job in Barrow County, Ga., told The Messenger he called in Grady County Volunteer Fire Department tanker trucks as “backup to supply additional water.
“The water system the morning of the fire would not sustain the required fire flow due to the low pressure in the system,” Chief Towne said.
The fire chief says he and his staff had been advised by utilities officials previously that in the event of a fire, the utilities department would have to manually switch on the high service pumps at the northeast water plant, which is where the city’s only water wells are located.
According to Towne, the utilities department was notified immediately, but it was taking too long for the pressure to build in the system so the decision was made to call in county volunteer units.
Firemen were dispatched to the scene at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 22, and it took 35 firemen from both the city fire department and the county volunteers approximately two hours to bring the fire under control.
The 2,092 square foot home, which was uninsured, located at 1400 Seventh St. N.W. was totally destroyed.
Although firefighters initially did not have sufficient water pressure to adequately battle the blaze, Chief Towne says the home would have been a total loss regardless.
“Unfortunately, the home was a total loss when fire units arrived. It (the water pressure) wouldn’t have made a difference on this fire,” Chief Towne said.
Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton says the high service pumps have to be manually operated because the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system that monitors water pressure is “old and obsolete.”
Public Works Superintendent Raymond Stokes says the system was purchased in 1996 or 1997. He says it has been five years since parts have been available to make the system function as designed.
“As with any electronics, it is practically obsolete when you buy it. We can still operate, but we have to do more by hand,” Stokes said.
Addleton says the control board at the water plant was struck by lightning and the city is having difficulty replacing it with a new board because parts are no longer available.
The city manager notes that at that time of the morning only one of the high service pumps is running, but by 5 a.m. on that morning all high service pumps were running and the pressure in the system was increased to normal.
“The area around the location of the fire is on the low end of water pressure due to the fact that it is served by six-inch water lines. So, bottom line, at a minimum, by 5 a.m. they were getting all the water pressure that they were going to get at this location,” Addleton said.
The city manager says once a new water plant is constructed, a new SCADA system will be included in the plans and the refilling of water storage tanks will once again be fully automated.
Funding for the new water plant, an elevated tank and a SCADA system are included in the proposed fiscal year 2010-2011 operating budget.
Stacy Watkins, the city’s consulting engineer, will appear before the city council Monday night to update officials on the water system improvements.

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