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Published: Monday, 6/22/2009

Mayor seeks independent study of West Toledo fire

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner intends to ask Monday for an independent review of the city's handling of a fire that destroyed a home in the historic Westmoreland district 13 days ago.

The mayor, who was briefed several days after the June 9 fire at 1945 Mount Vernon Ave., said Sunday that enough questions have been raised about the fire response and the water system that a third-party review is in order.

"When there is an ongoing question involving anything, where either loss of property in the extreme or loss of life, and there's any question about the performance and delivery of services by the municipality, it's appropriate to have individuals who do not receive a paycheck from that institution take a look at an independent review of the facts as they are available," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

The mayor said he has two Toledo people in mind, plus an individual who holds a fire safety position elsewhere in Ohio.

Fire officials have said responding crews probably did not know the hydrant they tapped to extinguish the blaze was connected to a 4-inch water main.

Chief Michael Wolever said inadequate water volume was one of two factors in the destruction of the house owned by Barbie and Herman Harrison. The other factor cited by Chief Wolever was a delay in notification: The fire is believed to have been well advanced into the walls and attic by the time the homeowners discovered it and summoned firefighters.

A hydrant on a 6-inch line was around the block, but firefighters did not use that hydrant until late in the fire-fighting effort. The house was a total loss.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he will ask three people whom he expects to name Monday to review the situation.

A higher-volume hydrant near Barbie and Herman
Harrison s house was not tapped until late in the fire. A higher-volume hydrant near Barbie and Herman Harrison s house was not tapped until late in the fire.
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"In light of the fact that there remain, I will say, questions about did the system fail, I'm going to put a three-person panel in place," he said.

The mayor said he told Mrs. Harrison and his top staff on the day of the fire that he did not want "anything other than a 100 percent honest, accurate report from both the utilities department and the fire department."

The city's remaining system of 4-inch water mains has been cited as posing a potential threat to other houses in the city. Hydrants on 4-inch mains are not identified by any coding in the color of the hydrant, as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, and as once practiced by the city of Toledo.

Nor are firefighters provided with maps or other documents identifying hydrants that would be susceptible to low water volume.

Chief Wolever said Friday he has asked the city Department of Public Utilities to compile a list of 4-inch mains, for distribution to fire stations throughout Toledo.

The city has about 23 miles of 4-inch mains, which have significantly less capacity than the 8-inch standard-diameter pipes.

The city spends $2 million annually from a special water-main replacement fund, collected from city water customers both inside and outside Toledo, to replace mains. Four-inch mains are replaced from that account, as are many 6-inch and larger pipes deemed vulnerable to breaking.

Some retired firefighters have said the city had a system of painting red rings on the tops of hydrants on 4-inch lines or at the dead ends of water mains to alert firefighters, and that system allegedly was eliminated in 1994 when Mayor Finkbeiner had the hydrants repainted green and white. Other former firefighters say the color-coding system disappeared before that.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants that issue examined but was told by Joe Walter, a former city safety director and retired fire chief, that most cities stopped color coding hydrants years ago.

Contact Tom Troy at:

419-724-6058 or

tomtroy@theblade.com



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