Fire Department Works to Solve Hydrant Issues

The Bellaire Volunteer Fire Department has been through quite a bit in the last two weeks.

At Thursday’s council meeting, Fire Chief Bill Swoyer said the department had 10 alarms since the last council meeting Aug. 7, three of which were structure fires. While response was quick, the department had problems with one fire hydrant.

Village Administrator Dan Marling has discussed the issue of the hydrants with Swoyer, and said the village is doing as much as they can to solve the problems.

Marling said the village has approximately 90 fire hydrants which were last tested in December 2012. To test a single hydrant requires 750-1,200 gallons of water per minute, and the test lasts approximately 7-10 minutes. At an average of 7,000 gallons per hydrant, it would require more than 630,000 gallons of water to test every hydrant in the village, which is something the village is unable to achieve due to the problem with the water intake valve, Marling said.

“There has not been a move in this village that has not been done in conjunction with the EPA, our engineer and everybody else. Basically at that particular time, they said to us, ‘You can’t test fire hydrants right now,'” Marling said.

He said the village has been unable to test the hydrants since the problem with the intake valve began.

“We have not been able to do it,” Marling said. “It’s not because we don’t want to, it’s because we haven’t been able to. We’re trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.”

In the last few years, the village has replaced approximately 15 fire hydrants, Marling said, and there are still about 20 that need to be replaced.

However, the Ohio Public Works Commission grant which the village is seeking looks to be a promising endeavor. The grant would allot the village approximately $200,000 in order to establish an emergency supplemental water connection with Belmont County. Marling said although it is not a certainty yet, it appears as though the village will receive the grant.

“The county is working well with us. They’re reviewing the plans for the emergency connection, which as you know will be out in the 149 area coming into West Bellaire,” Marling said. “Again, the county is not taking over our water. The only thing that this is, is what the EPA has required us to do. They want an alternative water source to be able to support the village.”

Also Thursday, council discussed hiring a full-time officer to the Bellaire Police Department in order to fill a vacancy.

Police Chief Mike Kovalyk said the full-time position was vacated in the middle of June, and that filling the position would alleviate some scheduling problems with the department, as many of the part-time officers have other full-time jobs and are only available on a limited basis. He said the funding for the officer’s wages is already factored into the budget.

If the village – which still shows approximately a $100,000 deficit in the general fund – does not hire another officer, Treasurer Tom Sable said it would potentially save about $22,000. However, that would continue to leave the department shorthanded.

“I’m talking dollars and cents, while (Kovalyk) is talking about operations,” Sable said. “Somehow we’ve got to come together on this, and (the budget) shows that we can make some progress here.”

Kovalyk said at the beginning of September, the department will be placing another full-time officer on leave for health reasons. Hiring another officer in the meantime would somewhat help to curb future issues with shorthandedness at the department.

“We’re still trying to add additional part-time people to alleviate some of the issues with the schedule as well,” Kovalyk said.

“We don’t want to come to a point where we’re compromising not only public safety, but officer safety also.”

Councilman Jerry Fisher said while the city can’t give officers a raise, the department should be at full staff.

“We keep cutting it back and back, and we’re not going to have anyone,” he said.

Sable said that by having more people at the department, it would further reduce overtime hours and save the village more money.

The village does not have any applicants to fill the position, but it may begin advertising that there is a position open after the matter is discussed further.