PORTSMOUTH, Va. — In March, Portsmouth firefighters put out a house fire on Lake Shores Drive in Port Norfolk. Fire Chief James Hoffler called the fire "extensive," and the house is currently uninhabitable.
Upon arrival, firefighters found that the nearest fire hydrant was out of service. Hoffler said it's hard to tell if the broken hydrant made a difference in the outcome of this particular fire, but he said in general, "it makes a difference any time you have a delay from the norm."
13News Now decided to investigate the number of out-of-service fire hydrants throughout the seven cities in Hampton Roads. Through public records requests, the investigative team found that Portsmouth reports 25 broken hydrants throughout the city. Suffolk reports seven broken hydrants and the other cities all report two or less.
Portsmouth's 25 broken hydrants are more than double the combined amount of broken hydrants in the other six other cities 13News Now surveyed.
Neighbors in Portsmouth said fire hydrants near their homes have been broken for years, calling the out-of-service hydrants a "major problem" and a "threat to all of our homes."
Tina Marie Shannon lives across the street from that hydrant that was broken during the Port Norfolk fire. She said it's working now, but said it was only fixed after the fire and media attention.
"Had that fire hydrant been working, I don't think the house there would've burned as long as it did," Shannon said.
Portsmouth residents Doris Cross and Jeff Fielder said the fire hydrants near her home have been broken for at least two years each.
"I've walked by for years and seen that out-of-service sign," Fielder said. "You know, it's not a soda machine."
The City of Portsmouth responded to multiple interview requests with a statement, saying Public Utilities "promptly repairs" simple problems like nozzle or drainage issues. The City said if the hydrant is broken off "at the breakaway, usually a result of being struck by a vehicle, Public Utilities replaces the hydrant as soon as possible."
The statement says if a hydrant needs to be replaced or repaired outside of these issues, Public Utilities then issues a bid for work under Portsmouth's Capital Improvement Program.
"These projects involve a significant amount of detail beyond replacing the hydrant seen above ground including, and not limited to, valving of water during the repair, installation of mechanical restraints, tapping of water mains, traffic control and restoration of pavement, curb and gutters or sidewalks," the statement reads.
The city did not say how long these bids usually take or respond to additional follow-up questions.
Cross said she believes taking years to repair or replace a broken fire hydrant shows the city does not prioritize working fire hydrants as a public safety need.
"The city should take care of its own, and I feel like that fire hydrant is on the top of the list," Cross said
Portsmouth fire trucks carry about 750 gallons of water on each truck, and fire hoses are about 1000 feet long -- allowing firefighters to reach multiple hydrants if one is out of service.
Portsmouth Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Battalion Chief Justin Arnold said the firefighters always have a "backup for the backup" and members of the department test active fire hydrants annually.
However, the responsibility to fix broken hydrants falls under the purview of Public Utilities, not Portsmouth Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services.
Shannon said the list of 25 currently out-of-service fire hydrants is not safe enough for herself or her other neighbors in Portsmouth.
"What are we going to do, we have a major problem here," she said.
List of Out-of-Service Hydrants by address
- 4228 Portsmouth Blvd.
- 9 Bainbridge Ave.
- 6226 Centenary Rd.
- 3800 Long Point Blvd.
- 2719 Magnolia St.
- 900 Elmhurst Ln.
- 612 Cherokee Rd.
- 464 Armstrong Ave.
- 116 Francis St.
- 500 Roosevelt Blvd.
- 3311 Stanford Rd.
- 604 McLean St.
- Airline Blvd. at Bart St.
- 1402 Roosevelt Blvd.
- 4103 George Washington Highway
- 291 Wythe St.
- 1 Harbor Ave.
- 906 Lincoln St.
- 298 Lincoln St.
- 320 Idlewood Ave.
- 511 Water Lily Rd.
- 3513 Town Point Rd.
- 3300 Brighton St.
- 510 Lake Shores Dr.
- Court St. at Glasgow St.
- 5316 Godwin Boulevard
- 204 Roundtable Arch
- County Street at Polk Street
- Hill Street at Central Avenue
- Central Avenue at Pinner Street
- 430 Culloden Street
- 1406 Blythwood Lane at Eric Court
- 9663 23rd Bay Street (Hit by vehicle)
- 4251 Powhatan Avenue (Hit by vehicle)
- 515 Lasalle Avenue (Hit by vehicle)
Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Newport News each reported 0 out-of-service fire hydrants