CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A fire hydrant is one of the most crucial firefighting tools, but dozens of hydrants across Mecklenburg County are going unrepaired and unreplaced for months and in some cases even years, according to Charlotte Water records.
The agency said its goal is to fix or replace a problem hydrant within 16 days, but records show it's taking roughly nine months on average.
"We're trying to get them done as fast as possible," Charlotte Water Spokesperson Cam Coley said.
Firefighters routinely test hydrants and flag those in need of repairs or replacement. Charlotte Water is in charge of completing that work.
"We work closely with the fire departments as far as what are their highest needs to get fixed first," Coley said.
Coley said the most urgent problems get immediate attention, but the rest, considered medium to low priority, can take months, and in some cases, even years.
"Does that not seem extreme?" WCNC asked.
"It depends what that repair is," he said. "If it's painting a hydrant or if it's something as simple as putting a new ID tag on it, then that's not as bad."
A work order identified a fire hydrant on Lynnwood Drive in front of several condos. It was taken out of service in May 2016 because it had "a major leak at the base, missing cap chain and needs paint."
It was considered a low priority, as the hydrant still functioned but needed to be replaced when possible, according to the work order. Records show it sat untouched for nearly a year.
It took the city more than a year to replace another hydrant on Colony Road. Records show crews first took it out of service in April 2016 and didn't replace it until May of the next year.
Another work order identified a medium priority fire hydrant on St. Vardell Lane in the middle of a business park flagged as in need of replacement due to a nozzle problem in March 2016.
Records show it took more than two years for the city to replace it.
A fourth work order identified a fire hydrant at the Walmart on East Independence Boulevard that needed to be repaired in November 2014 due to "constant leaking."
The actual finish date is listed as April 2017.
Charlotte Water would not share the addresses of the work orders that are still pending, but public records identify medium priority projects, some dating back to 2016 and 2017, that are all still incomplete.
"It's just a matter of when we're doing these we have to prioritize the best we can with the resources we have," Coley said. "There's a challenge of the amount of staff you have and what you have to do."
In addition to working on other water-related projects, the city says sometimes the hydrant work is especially complicated, requiring more planning, resources and the actual replacement of the pipes below the ground.
In most instances, repairs or replacement are not considered critical to firefighting, like a handful that needed painting last year, one that needed to face another way and another that leaked when used or tested, according to Charlotte Water.
"Will all of these fire hydrants work if there's an emergency?" we asked.
"I believe so, because the fire departments tell us on a weekly and sometimes a sooner basis what their priorities are," Coley said. "If it's a hydrant that still functions for emergency, then we're going to move that down, so that we can move on to the higher priorities."
Charlotte Water manages more than 17,000 fire hydrants and said at any given time, less than 1% of all hydrants are out of service. In those cases, we're told there's generally another working hydrant close by.
Click here for an explainer of how Charlotte Water prioritizes leaks.