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Old Pipes Hamper Firefighters

July 29, 2012

Derby Line firefighters had problems dousing this fire on Elm Street due to low water pressure caused by deteriorating pipes. The Derby Elementary School is also located on Elm Street. Photo by Laura Carpenter

DERBY – More serious problems have come to light with the ancient water system in the Village of Derby Line. Not only is the water dirty with rust and other residue, but low water pressure is hampering firefighters when trying to put out fires.
The home of Debbie Perry caught fire in the early morning hours Saturday. Eighteen Derby Line firefighters responded to the seen with five trucks after receiving a call at 3:20 a.m., Derby Line Fire Chief Craig Ellam said Sunday.
When firefighters arrived, they saw flames shooting through the roof from one room. While trying to put the fire out, they were delayed by low water pressure, Ellam said. The problem is not from lack of rainfall this year, he explained; it is an on-going problem. The water lines are just too small. The firefighters were able to leave around 6:30 a.m. but the house was a total loss.
Perry was not home at the time of the fire, Ellam said. She had left about 8 p.m. that evening. A neighbor called to report the fire.
Ellam said he knows what room the fire started in but is not sure what caused it. His suggested that it could be something electrical, like a short, or something left on and possibly knocked over. A fire investigator will examine the scene for insurance purposes.
“We were hampered by the low water pressure. It’s a bad system,” said Ellam.
The house is located among other homes on Elm Street, a road that begins in Derby Line and turns into Derby Town. Luckily, the fire was contained in time and did not spread to nearby homes.
The Derby Elementary School is also located on Elm Street and there is a hydrant near the school. If a fire occurs at the school, Ellam said, “It could be an issue. We would struggle.”
Brian Fletcher, the Road Supervisor of Derby Line, agreed with Ellam that insufficient water pressure could pose a problem fighting a fire at the elementary school. If a large fire broke out on Elm Street up to the school, emergency responders would have to truck water to the site, which would add time when seconds count.
Ellam said the Derby Elementary School does not have an inside sprinkler system for fires. The building does have "passive fire protection," which means it is designed to trap flames and slow the progress of a fire from room to room or floor to floor, and the building has an alarm system to clear the building.
Fletcher, whose department maintains water and sewer lines for the village, said that the water lines are old and change in size from four to six inches and back to four. “It wouldn’t take long for a fire truck to suck the hydrant dry.”
So why isn’t the system upgraded? It’s an on-going discussion in the village, but the village doesn’t have the money for an engineering study, nor the millions needed for repairs.
At the annual village meeting, voters opted to have the trustees look for grants rather than pay for the study.
At a recent trustee meeting, Derby Line Village Trustee Keith Beadle said that no grants were found and that it wasn’t a good time to ask the government for money. Contacted Sunday about the fire safety issue, Beadle said he was not aware that the water pressure was not sufficient for firefighters.

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