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WSA puts Marshall water off-limits for fire fighting

Friday, Mar. 1 | By Mark Grandstaff | Google+
Firefighter Kelly Wallser of the Warrenton Volunteer Fire Company lowers a hose into a pond to pump water into a tank truck. --Photo by Alisa Booze Troetschel
Much of Marshall's water supply is off-limits to firefighters, to the consternation of some fire officials.

Right now, the town's water system is under the purview of the Fauquier County Water and Sanitation Authority.

According to Cheryl Saint Amant, WSA associate manager of operations, the only hydrants that generate enough pressure to sustain firefighting efforts lie along Main Street in Marshall.

Those hydrants are to be used only for fires in Marshall, Amant said -- and firefighters must notify WSA during a fire call, so that WSA can send a technician to adjust the system's water pressure.

For Tom Marable, president of the Fauquier Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, that's not acceptable.

It can take WSA technicians 30 to 45 minutes to arrive in Marshall, Marable said.

Time counts, he said, especially when someone might be trapped in a burning building.

"I can tell you in an event like that, where you're possibly trying to make a rescue, the last thing you've got on your mind is notifying someone from the WSA to get out of bed and turn the fire pump on," Marable said.

The WSA wants notification for safety's sake, St. Amant said. Water and water pressure are limited resources in rural areas, she said.

If a WSA technician does not come to adjust pressure while firefighters draw on a water system, it could mean muddy, unsanitary water for the homes served by that system, St. Amant said.

"When we lose pressure, that is a regulatory violation and we would have to issue a boil water notice," she said.

Marshall Fire Chief Eddie Payne wants to be able to use the Main Street hydrants for incidents outside the service district, but still in his "first due" area.

If Marshall has to put out a burning vehicle on Interstate 66 near their station, they can't draw on Marshall's hydrants, connected to half a million gallons of water in storage tanks, Payne said.

They have to fill their tanks in The Plains and relay it back, he said.

Payne said the Marshall Fire Department has not communicated with the WSA in several months about Marshall's water supply.

"I don't get any updates from the WSA," Payne said. "To me, it's still very inadequate for fire protection."

St. Amant said that money is the limiting factor for Marshall's water system. As more funds become available, they'll continue to upgrade Marshall's system to make more of its hydrants capable of generating enough pressure for the use of fire trucks, she said.

Warrenton Chief Sam Myers said his department has a good working relationship with the WSA, but the Town of Warrenton's water system serves most of Myers' territory.

Warrenton's water system has grown more robust over the past several years, Myers said, and if any water pressure issues would arise, he is confident in a swift response from town personnel.

Remington Chief Ian Brill said he can rely on Remington engineers to adjust water pressure if needed. A significant part of his territory is out in the county, under the purview of the WSA.

Most of the time, the WSA addresses problems with hydrants near Remington within a week, Brill said.

Fauquier Supervisor Chester Stribling, who heads the public safety committee, said that 9-1-1 dispatchers should notify the WSA during fires, as they do with electric and gas companies.

Stribling, growing exasperated, said a phone call with the WSA to set up a meeting would put everyone on the same page.

"It's not that hard, guys," Stribling said. "It really is not that hard. Maybe it is, but it should not be that complicated to accomplish this."
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