Pro: Fire hydrant system would have saved home

Bianca Montes By Bianca Montes

Feb. 16, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 15, 2014 at 8:16 p.m.

Vicky Oleksy said had a hydrant been near her home, it would have surely survived a fire in January.

Oleksy lives in the county, and the closest fire hydrant to her home is a couple blocks away, inside the city. However, it was too far away for a fire hose to connect to it.

Like many homeowners in rural Victoria County, she is dependent on the assistance of Victoria Fire Department and volunteer departments when it comes to combating emergency situations - a process that can be time-consuming.

When a small fire began in a structure behind her home, it took 13 minutes for the first city fire truck to arrive and even longer for a large tanker truck to arrive from 10 miles away. It is housed at the city's Salem Road fire station.

By that time, the home was fully engulfed, and Victoria Fire Chief Taner Drake said there wasn't much that could be done to save it.

"We have to be prepared to provide our own efficient water system, which makes it a challenge," Drake said. "You have to get all those pieces in place before you can really make an effective attack."

The fire trucks in Victoria hold about 500 gallons of water, and the tanker or pumper truck holds about 2,000.

"If you have a limited amount of water on your first arriving truck and then go all in and expend all its water, there is no backup," he said. "It puts the firefighters in danger, and it also does not allow us to finish the job."

The reality of knowing how unprotected she was in the face of an emergency left Oleksy wondering why she and her neighbors were unprotected.

While Oleksy lives close to the city limit, her neighborhood is rural with about four houses on the block. It's an area that county officials do not believe to be in need of a costly hydrant system.

"It's because we're poor," Oleksy said. "Maybe if I was in a richer home, that would not have happened.

"I don't know why I feel that way - maybe it's just me being upset because I lost my home."

Whatever the reason, she said it's unacceptable to have to wait 13 minutes for help.

"It really upsets me," she said. "I know my home could have been saved, but the (fire department) taking so long to arrive and traveling so far let my house burn down to the ground in front of me."

Building a station closer to the county rather than building Fire Station No. 6 in the northernmost part of town and moving the tanker truck closer to the county line are two solutions to the problem, she said.

Wade Meik, 29, said he left the city more than a year ago to move his family to the county.

Meik, who lives in the Hidden Valley subdivision, said the lack of a hydrant system in his neighborhood and varying emergency response times didn't weigh into his decision to move.

"I guess I can see the pros and cons," he said. "Having a hydrant system would surely increase safety and availability of services.

"The cons would be higher taxes."

Some areas of the county do have hydrants, such as the Quail Creek subdivision. Quail Creek is part of the municipal utility district, which handles three water wells, allowing the areas to be self-sufficient.

The hydrant system doesn't carry higher taxes for the residents because it was part of the infrastructure when the area was developed, said district manager Daniel Jimenez.

Quail Creek also has a volunteer fire department with two brush trucks, one rescue truck and a pumper truck.

It often assists with county fires.

County Fire Marshal Ronald Pray said typically, when a fire hydrant system is put in place in a county subdivision, the costs are absorbed by developers. The county, he said, does not have that type of money.

"The problem is that you don't have the population, ordinances and zoning," Pray said. "You're talking about a lot of money, and the risk does not outweigh the benefit."

Oleksy disagreed.

Losing the home that she built with her bare hands with her husband, memorabilia of her children's' lives and the belongings of her deceased grandfather - all irreplaceable - were all worth a hike in taxes.

She said she'd gladly pay.

Oleksy is now homeless.

She and her four children share a single bedroom at her mother's home, and she prays about rebuilding or being able to purchase a small trailer to put on the lot.

"I was begging (the firefighters) to put out the fire," she said, "and they told me they couldn't do anything."

Related story:

Would a countywide hydrant system help firefighters?

Con: Fire official: A fire hydrant on every corner would be financially irresponsible



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