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Officials: Drainage woes may have caused frozen hydrant

At least nine people escaped a house fire

At least nine people escaped a house fire in Brentwood on Sunday. (Jan. 31, 2010)

One of the two frozen hydrants that were unable to function when firefighters arrived at a house fire in Brentwood Sunday was deemed "operational but draining slowly" in an inspection last month by a contractor for the Suffolk County Water Authority, a spokesman said.

The drainage problem could have caused the hydrants to freeze, Suffolk County Fire Rescue and Emergency Services officials said.

The authority, responsible for maintaining the hydrants, is excavating the two hydrants near the site of Sunday's blaze on Pelham Drive to ensure that they were installed correctly and have proper drainage, authority spokesman Paddy South said.

The hydrants have underground valves below the frost line that open to drain water from the top part of the hydrant when it is closed after use, fire officials said. When the water fails to drain properly in frigid weather, the water may turn into ice around the valve or another part of the hydrant, rendering it inoperable.

Brentwood Fire Department Chief Eric Raudies said the hydrants' failure slowed efforts to put out the blaze. All of the occupants of the one-story house escaped unharmed, but the structure was destroyed.

Until firefighters could access a secure water source, they could not enter the house, Raudies said. "Without a working water source, I wouldn't have committed my men to go inside," Raudies said. "They would've been at risk."

About 20 minutes after the Brentwood Fire Department arrived at 7:31 a.m., firefighters were able to hook up to working hydrants nearby, Raudies said.

After the fire, the property was condemned and the house demolished, an Islip Town spokeswoman said.

Less than a month earlier, on Jan. 4, a contractor for the authority, CFM, inspected both hydrants in question, South said.

"One was cleared as fine, the other was noted as operational but draining slowly," South said in a statement Monday.

The authority is investigating, he said. "It is important that hydrants have proper drainage material around them to allow the water to drain out of the hydrant after they are used or tested," he said.

Suffolk Legis. Jack Eddington (I-Medford), chairman of the legislature's public safety committee, said he met with the water authority's incoming chief executive, Jeff Szabo, who said the authority was in the process of checking hydrants in Islip when the fire happened.

The faulty hydrants, which the authority inherited when it took over the Brentwood water district in 2000, are a different model than those typically installed by the water authority and may not have been surrounded by rocks or other porous material to allow for proper drainage, Eddington said. "They said it's an old drainage problem," he said.

Szabo could not be reached.

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