MACES CREEK — The Childers home burned beyond repair on the afternoon of Sept. 20. Rescue crews were dispatched to the scene in Maces Creek, with volunteers from the Viper Fire Dept. arriving first. The home, which was a total loss in the fire, belonged to Freddie Childers. He lived in the house for more than 20 years.
Controversy surrounds a situation firefighters faced, while trying to save the house. According to the Assistant Chief of Viper Fire and Rescue, J.C. Amburgey, a hydrant near the Childers driveway had been turned off by the City of Hazard, and therefore was unable to supply firefighters with the extra water they needed to calm the flames. Following a WYMT Television report about the incident, people began to express concerns, which prompted the City of Hazard to publicly address this issue.
“The City sincerely regrets the fire loss for the family in this instance, but the news report and certain statements made by members of the volunteer fire department was misleading and was based upon a common misunderstanding of the nature of water service, which is afforded by the City of Hazard in most areas of Perry County outside the city limits. The City of Hazard furnishes water free of charge to volunteer fire departments for use in fighting fires throughout the county, but the City’s water system is not designed to furnish fire protection in areas outside or adjacent to the city limits,” City officials stated in the public address.
The hydrant near the Childers’ driveway has been a steady topic of debate. According to the City of Hazard’s public statement, the device was not an actual hydrant and was never intended for use fighting fires.
“The “hydrant” which was referenced in WYMT’s report in this instance was not in fact a fire hydrant at all, and was merely a flushing valve used by City water employees to maintain the waterline. This type of valve does somewhat resemble a traditional fire hydrant, but it is not installed for, nor intended for, use in fire protection. These valves are also known as “flushing hydrants” which are normally smaller in size (about half the size of a fire hydrant) and are intended only for flushing water pipelines. Any valve can be used to refill a water container such as a tanker truck, but these valves are not reliable sources of water for structural firefighting and are not recognized by the National Fire Protection Association for such use.”
In rural areas, resources to assist emergency crews are scarce. J.C. Amburgey believes that all hydrants should be available to help firefighters, regardless of whether or not fire prevention is their intended use.
“Well the “fire hydrant” in question is actually a blow-off where they can drain the water in cases of maintenance. However, they are one of our main sources in firefighting. The “hydrant” that was turned off can fill our 1,000 gallon pumper in less than 2 minutes. So, yeah, it puts out an amount of water that can be very important in firefighting. They say they are not for firefighting but in our area it’s all we have other than tankers shuttling water from the closest fire hydrants, and the closest one to that fire would have been Viper Elementary School. I’m not doing all this to cause the City trouble or put blame on them for the loss of the family’s home, but I am speaking about this to try to keep this problem from happening again when someone’s life could be on the line.”
The city, itself, is no stranger to structure fires. Main Street alone has seen several buildings burst into flames over the past few years. Out in the county, circumstances become more critical, as many homes sit several miles away from the nearest fire station. Forest fires also threaten a large number of communities throughout the mountains. Without the work of volunteer firefighters, little hope of preventing complete destruction during emergencies would exist. However, City officials stand by the claim that they do the best job possible to provide public water throughout Perry County and, in the closing of the City’s public address, the Hazard Government also illustrates commitment to lend emergency response resources to communities in need outside of city limits.
“Although the public may not always be aware of the limitations of the City’s water supply system, all volunteer fire departments and fire personnel throughout Perry County should be well aware of the limited purpose of the pipelines. They own and maintain fire trucks with on board water capacity and pumping capacity and use additional tanker trucks to carry extra water to local fires. Each of those departments has the capability to access water free of charge from the City at, or near, those departments in order to fill their fire trucks and tanker trucks for use in fire protection. When local departments anticipate the need for assistance, they call on other volunteer departments or on the City itself. The City’s own fire department responded to (the Childers) fire and rendered assistance to the Viper Fire Department as requested.”
The City of Hazard has scheduled a meeting with fire crews in Perry County to discuss this issue further. Regardless of whatever decisions might be made in the future, the house Freddie Childers helped build and then turned into a home is gone. On Wednesday afternoon, the remains of the Childers residence rekindled into a blaze and firefighters were once again dispatched to the property.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.