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Chief says buried hydrant delayed firefighters at blaze

March 06, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

It could have been a firefighter's nightmare - flames shooting 30 feet above the roofline of a burning house as volunteers struggled to dig out a fire hydrant buried under 3 feet of snow.

The only thing that kept the nightmare from becoming a tragedy in the early hours of Feb. 26 was that the house in the 18700 block of Fountain Terrace was still under construction and unoccupied, according to a fire official.

"If we had had water sooner, we probably could have saved more of the house," said John Latimer IV, chief of the Long Meadow Volunteer Fire Co. But in the back of his mind, Latimer said, he was thinking about the potential for loss of life.

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After the recent record-breaking snow, Washington County residents were asked to clear snow from fire hydrants and storm drains.

"But in this particular neighborhood, many of the homes are still under construction," Latimer said. It isn't clear whose responsibility it would be to remove snow from those hydrants.

Damage to the two-story, single-family home was set at $250,000, according to the Maryland State Fire Marshal's office. Space heaters were being used throughout the home and one caught the wall of the attached garage on fire, fire marshals said.

Latimer said the 4 to 5 minutes it took that morning to dig out the hydrant to get water to fight the fire allowed the blaze to consume the garage on the north side of the house and move through the attic across the top of the house. There was some fire into the second floor.

"We probably could have saved more if we had had water sooner," Latimer said.

Once water was available, firefighters from Long Meadow, Maugansville and Hagerstown were able to save the rest of the house and spare the house next door from damage.

"We actually got a letter from the Apex Masonry Co. thanking us for saving the scaffolding they had up on that house next door," Latimer said.

Long Meadow firefighters have a standard practice of mapping the locations of all fire hydrants in their areas including new developments such as in the Fountain Terrace incident. Latimer said those maps and all updates are provided to the fire companies that regularly accompany Long Meadow on calls.

Latimer said he hopes the Fountain Terrace situation might prompt area residents to do the neighborly thing the next time it snows, checking to make sure fire hydrants on their streets are cleared of snow.

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