The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

D.C. fire hydrants:
Which ones work?

May 14, 2007

After a 15-million-dollar fire at a public library in Washington D.C. on April 30, the finger-pointing began. When fire fighters tried the two hydrants closest to the fire, they didn’t work. The third one they tried was a few blocks away.

Washington D.C. has about 9,000 fire hydrants. The authority responsible for the fire hydrants, D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), says only 53 are currently broken. But reporters on the story pointed out that a firehouse in downtown D.C. had several fire hydrants listed as broken that were not on WASA’s list. Even if the figure of broken fire hydrants is only one or two%, it’s far too many when fires break out.

The head of the D.C. Fire Fighters Association was quoted after the fire:“With no maintenance for the last 10 or 15 years, sometimes when you go in and unscrew [the cap], it breaks.”

Four months ago, the D.C. council authorized a 26-million-dollar upgrade to replace 3500 of the city’s fire hydrants. But the problem didn’t begin four months ago. And it won’t end even if these 3500 hydrants are replaced. They still have to be maintained.

WASA doesn’t even have a computerized listing of all the fire hydrants. And there are only two WASA crews working on fire hydrants at any time.

The D.C. story underlines the decline in every type of public service.

There is work that needs doing. At the same time, Washington D.C. has a high unemployment rate. It’s obvious that public services could be maintained and improved. All it would take is the will to divert subsidies that go now to the wealthy, and put them to use repairing public services.