It is an unfortunate reality that homes and businesses located in the rural sections of our communities are more vulnerable in the event of fire because of the absence of public water systems. When fires happen, volunteer departments do the best they can shuttling water to these locations or tapping natural water sources, but that capability cannot match the fire-suppression ability of high-pressure hydrants.
Recent fires in the Oakdale section of Montville have focused attention on this issue and led to questions as to whether more should be done to enhance firefighting ability. Fortunately no lives have been lost. Yet the situation in Oakdale is more the rule than the exception in southeastern Connecticut, where many residential areas have no hydrants.
The region needs to view the discussion of where to extend water utility services within the larger context of meeting the long-term water needs of southeastern Connecticut. Factors such as the potential for economic growth, population density, engineering challenges and associated expenses all have to be factored into the planning. A spate of fires in one section is not reason enough to undertake costly water service projects.
The circumstances involved with the fire that destroyed the Oakdale Plaza in 2010 are less typical. In that case there were fire hydrants located near the plaza, but without adequate pressure to utilize for fire suppression. The Southeastern Connecticut Water Authority inherited a system installed by a developer that was engineered to provide drinking water, not provide enough pressure to knock down a fire. Most of the system would have to be re-engineered and rebuilt to make those hydrants work for more than flushing.
But shouldn't property owners expect that fire hydrants will protect their property? That question is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the plaza owners against the town and the water authority. If found liable, the town and authority may conclude they have no choice but to fix the problem.