Tuesday, February 2, 1999

Official says hydrant
can’t be blamed

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


A problem with a water hydrant did not affect efforts to fight a blaze that destroyed a Pearl City home Saturday, according to Honolulu fire officials.

Acting Fire Chief John Clark said the delay made no difference because flames were seen coming from every window of the house when firefighters arrived.

But Joanna Clark, no relation to the chief, whose mother, Florence Padua, and four other relatives escaped injury, said she did not receive a satisfactory answer on why the hydrant in front of the house could not be opened.

"I got some answers, but they still don't know what caused the problem with the fire hydrant," she said. "We feel like, maybe, part of the house could have been saved."

Fire alarm woke woman

Joanna Clark said it was fortunate that her mother was able to wake up to a fire alarm in the house and then get four other family members out safely.

The family will stay with her grandmother for the time being, Clark said.

The hydrant problem resulted in a three-minute delay before water could be sprayed on the home at 1722 Hooia St., acting Fire Chief Clark said.

That's because water needed to come from another hydrant, on Komo Mai Drive, he said.

The first engine from Waiau arrived at 6:53 a.m., about two minutes after the fire was reported. At the scene, a firefighter assigned to open hydrants, dubbed a "snubber," encountered what Clark described as "a glitch."

"He opened it, he didn't get water, he tried again, he still didn't get water, so he just moved on to the next hydrant," Clark said.

"We don't know, and that's the best I answer I can give you, is that we don't know why he didn't get water after he tried it twice," he said.

While the snubber was working on the second hydrant, he was ordered to stop because firefighters from the Pearl City engine had already connected to a third hydrant at Komo Mai, Clark said.

Some witnesses reported that two hydrants provided no water. The Waiau snubber's sudden departure from his second hydrant (on Hooia Street) probably gave witnesses the impression that two hydrants had malfunctioned, Clark said.

The three extra minutes necessary to connect to the third hydrant (on Komo Mai) made no difference in trying to save the house, Clark said. Firefighters, seeing the house engulfed, were already in a "defensive posture" trying to protect surrounding homes.

Hydrants worked later

Cliff Jamile, superintendent for the Board of Water Supply, said his crew checked both Hooia Street hydrants an hour later and had no trouble releasing water.

The hydrants were removed and taken to the board's Kalihi shop, where they also tested fine, Jamile said.

"We cannot explain, we cannot duplicate the incident," he said.

The board tests each of its 17,000 hydrants once every 18 months. The hydrant the snubber had problems with last was checked nine months ago, Jamile said.

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