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Monday, April 9, 2007

Useless hydrants not a worry

If they look useless, that's because they are.

The five fire hydrants along Bethel Island's main drag have been under wraps for weeks, covered with plastic bags and taped so that firefighters unfamiliar with the area will not waste precious time trying to use them.

But the underground pipeline on Bethel Island Road that had sprung a leak did not have anything to do with the decision to switch off the hydrants' electric pump and put them all out of order -- his crews had not been relying on them anyway, said Interim Chief Bill Weisgerber of East Contra Costa Fire District.

"The only thing new is the bag over the hydrant," he said.

In fact, his four battalion chiefs cannot recall the last time anyone used the aging system, Weisgerber said.

"It's untested, it's antiquated, so rather than rely on that and cause further delay ... we rely on our proven method of supplying our own water," he said.

Although some residents remain skeptical, district firefighters say those methods are quite sufficient until some of the hydrants eventually are replaced.

The moment dispatchers receive reports of a fire, they automatically summon reinforcements for Bethel Island's tiny, two-person station, which has just one engine and a small four-wheel drive truck used in vegetation fires.

The district initially sends a water tender, a truck designed to carry 3,000 gallons of water, said Battalion Chief of Operations Jake Gonzalez, adding that this is standard operating procedure throughout the district.

Just as in Byron and sections of Vasco Road that also do not have any fire hydrants, these vehicles can put large-diameter suction hoses straight into the Delta and pull water into their on-board pumps, said Battalion Chief Hugh Henderson.

If the blaze is big enough, the district can dispatch as many as four water tenders from among the eight stations in Far East County as well as up to four fire engines -- and each of those holds 750 gallons on average, Gonzalez said.

Also at Bethel Island's disposal is a truck that comes with either a 75-foot or 100-foot ladder; Contra Costa Fire Protection District automatically will send one of them from Antioch or Pittsburg if a commercial building or multistory home is on fire, Gonzalez said.

And if that is not enough to quell people's fears, firefighters point out that there are plenty of places on Bethel Island that are not near a fire hydrant, which means the district must use a water tender even if the downtown fire hydrants were working.

The developer building the island's Delta Coves project is expected to install a pipeline within the next year that will carry drinking water to that residential community, after which Diablo Water District will assume the responsibility for maintaining it, Gonzalez said.

He noted that the water district regularly checks its pumps and the pressure in its pipes, ensuring a dependable water supply.

The piping, which will extend down Bethel Island Road to a point near Sandy Lane, will be connected to hydrants that also will be installed along that stretch of road.

As for the new fire boat Bethel Island residents have been hoping for, the order stalled -- the goal was to have the boat delivered last month -- after members of the county Board of Supervisors questioned whether the fire district really needed the $290,000 vessel.

Weisgerber said he will make a case for the purchase in two meetings that he has scheduled with Supervisors Mary Piepho and Federal Glover within the next week.

In the meantime, the district plans to borrow a former military boat that the county sheriff's department recently bought and have it ready to report for duty by the start of Bethel Island's boating season on April 21

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