WEST PARIS — Concerns raised by fire Chief Norm St. Pierre about the integrity of the town’s water hydrants are unfounded, according to West Paris Water District Director Greg Inman. 

Inman, in a phone interview Monday, said all of the town’s 43 hydrants are flushed in spring and fall. To his knowledge, all of the town’s hydrants are operational, Inman said. 

“Sometimes they open hard, sometimes they open easy, they’re all different vintages in the town of West Paris,” he said. “The newer ones work easier than the older ones, but they all work.”

The hydrants range in age five to 50 years, Inman said.

Late last month, St. Pierre tendered his resignation to Town Manager John White, saying town officials were unresponsive to his requests to improve fire safety in town. 

In particular, St. Pierre said the town’s network of fire hydrants, owned by the water district and rented to the town, have not been properly maintained and are unreliable.

In February, voters approved $35,407 for hydrant rentals for this year.

In a March 26 memo to selectmen, St. Pierre requested documentation of annual flushing, service and maintenance for the town’s hydrant system. 

According to Inman, the water district does not keep records of when it flushes or repairs hydrants, nor is it, apparently, required to.

“What would you say about a fire hydrant?” he asked. “It either works or it doesn’t work. You got water or you didn’t get water — it’s either an on or an off with a fire hydrant, there is no in between. Your records would either say it works or it didn’t work, if you had said records.”

Hydrants use the same water lines as other town properties, Inman said. Therefore, if water is flowing to a house smoothly, it is also flowing to the hydrant, he said. If a hydrant is found to be malfunctioning, it is covered with a black plastic bag until it can be fixed, he said. 

According to officials from both the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Maine Fire Marshal’s office, there are no state regulations that compel the water district to keep maintenance records. 

Tim Fuller, a supervisor with the Fire Marshal’s office inspection division, said the National Fire Protection Association publishes standards for hydrant upkeep, but it is up to communities to adopt them. 

“That’s up to the communities to have the level of protection they would like to have,” Fuller said. “The state doesn’t say, ‘You’ll have to have a fire hydrant system in your town.’ That’s all up to them if they want to do that.”

According to PUC spokesman Harry Lanphear, the commission’s oversight on hydrants extends to establishing the price utility companies are allowed to charge for hydrant use, but does not include rules on safety or maintenance. 

The PUC’s rules on private protection services, Chapter 640, say a utility like the West Paris Water District can institute service and maintenance policies in the terms and conditions it signs with a customer, but the rules do not mandate standards for hydrant upkeep.  

West Paris Town Manager John White said the town does not have a rental agreement with the water district that requires the utility to keep maintenance records. 

The hydrants are flushed in the fall before a deep freeze to make sure water is not left standing between the valve on the water main and the hydrant itself, which can freeze and push the brass fittings out of the cast iron hydrant, putting the unit out of commission. 

Occasions such as in January, when fire crews almost completely drained the town’s reservoir fighting the Penley Mill fire, are incredibly rare, Inman said. He did not believe that St. Pierre’s proposal to expand the size of the reservoir was feasible, considering the “huge” price increase it would mean for water district customers.

So far, he has not discussed concerns about the hydrants with St. Pierre, Inman said. 

A phone call to St. Pierre was not returned Monday afternoon. 

According to White, selectmen intend to meet with Inman and St. Pierre on Thursday to go over concerns and improve communication between the water district and the Fire Department. 

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