By Russell Hood
The Webster Progress-Times
Ensuring that city hydrants work as a fire protection measure was the topic of a special-called meeting of the Eupora Board of Aldermen on Friday.
Jerry Gary (at large), Howard Rumore (Ward 2) and Hugh Gibson (Ward 3) called the special meeting to discuss “repair of inoperative fire hydrant(s).” Gary began by referring to the March 22 fire that damaged Eupora High School and directed a number of questions to Water Superintendent Benny Neal about fire hydrants.
“Several fire hydrants are inoperative,” Gary said, adding that one of those was in the “middle of the scene” at EHS. Gary acknowledged that firefighters never used the hydrant that day but said if the Starkville Fire Department (which brought its ladder truck) had needed to use it, “it would’ve been critical.”
Rumore said, “I asked (at the fire) why it wasn’t being used and was told it didn’t work.”
Neal said the hydrant was working when he last flushed it and Mayor Dan Burchfield said Water Department worker Kenny Cooper had opened it the day before the meeting. Neal said it does work but is hard to turn on, as he said others are in the city because of their age.
Neal and Burchfield also pointed out that firefighters used the hydrant at the intersection of Fox and Joliff.
“It had plenty of coverage 100 yards in each direction,” Neal said, referring to the proximity of working hydrants during the fire.
When asked how many hydrants citywide don’t work, he estimated fewer than 20. Burchfield told the Progress-Times later that the city has 136 operable fire hydrants and 12 that are inoperative. During department head reports on Nov. 4, according to minutes of that meeting, Neal said the Water Department had a list and location of all hydrants in town.
When Gary asked, “What’s the plan and how quick can we get them working?” Neal responded, “I brought up in two different meetings about hydrants not working and got no response.” He indicated later that he was referring to the January and February meetings, when he discussed the possibility of contracting with someone who inspects, flushes and repairs hydrants.
Neal recommended working on hydrants in stages, but said the Water Department doesn’t have the tools to repair the older ones. Aldermen emphasized the need to repair inoperative hydrants in high-traffic areas such as apartment complexes and schools first.
After more discussion, the meeting concluded with approval of two motions. The first was to repair the hydrant in question at EHS as soon as possible, with the stipulation that money for the non-budgeted item be taken from Water Department reserves.
The other motion directed Neal to contact Greg Roberts Fire Hydrant Repair & Supply of New Albany to provide an estimate and develop plans for repairing all inoperative hydrants in the city.
Additionally, Gibson volunteered to research the availability of grants for hydrant repair. Neal recommended contacting Calvert-Spradling Engineers and the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
County Fire Investigator Casey Henderson said Monday that he, along with the Fire Marshal’s Office, determined that the fire at EHS was accidental, with no foul play involved. The fire started on an interior wall inside the break room, he said.
Students in grades 6-9 have relocated to the old high school, the new PE/multipurpose building and the EHS annex for the rest of the school year.
Henderson also said a person who claimed he heard an explosion at the time of the fire was questioned, along with multiple people in the area.
“It was determined that it had nothing to do with the start of the fire,” said Henderson. “It happened during the progression of fire.” He said it could have been anything from an aerosol can to windows blowing out.