City considering locks for water hydrants; adding fill stations for other companies

The City of Spokane is considering adding locks to its fire hydrants, and adding fill stations throughout the city for third-party companies to use after water was contaminated in a Hillyard neighborhood.

In July, residents in some Hillyard neighborhoods were without water after a hydroseed truck was using the city’s water hydrant to fill their truck and contaminated it.

That damage cost the city a “conservative estimate” of $50,000, said Marlene Feist, a spokesperson for the city. They’re still looking for who did it too.

“The police department is continuing to work with us to see if we can identify for sure who is responsible for that,” she said.

There has been no criminal complaint filed yet, the police department said.

Currently, companies have to apply for a permit to tap into the city’s water system through the hydrant. They also have to include a sufficient backflow prevention plan to avoid any contamination, but that slipped through in July.

“We’re still evaluating options, so obviously this is sort of a result of that incident and kind of coming up with ways to make our systems more secure for our future,” Feist said.

For those who use fire hydrants on the job, Spokane City Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said having locks on the hydrants wouldn’t be too much of an issue for them.

“Having that small lock would train personnel to open that in a seconds notice,” he said. “We’re okay with that extra time. It’s not a significant amount of time.”

He said it’s not a traditional latch key like some might think it is.

“It’s been built and designed for rapid access by firefighters and all types environments. It could be rainy, it could be snowy, it could be completely ice-covered, and we’d have access to that. So, it’s just another procedure that we have to use and we’ll train everyone from entry level firefighter all the way up to fire chief,” he said. “We’ll determine and gain competency with that skill like we do thousands of other skills and the big picture, though, is we’re protecting our water system which is the utmost importance for us here in the community.”

Schaeffer said that it would be as simple as just turning the lock, opening it and moving onto their operations.

“Not everybody, only the fire department will have access to that and the city water department will have access to those,” he said.

As the city issues the permits to companies, allowing them to use the hydrants, they don’t know how much water is being used.

“That might help us with our efforts to make sure we are tracking all of the water within our system, so we can accurately assess how much water we’re using,” Feist said.

Feist told 4 News Now there is no estimate on how much this would all cost, as it is currently just a conversation.

She said the water director is involved with the American Water Works Association and looking at other cities in how they manage their water systems.

The city has more than 7,000 hydrants in its water system.