Three volunteers dig out a fire hydrant that had been partly buried in sand Saturday in LeChee. The volunteers were part of a group headed by Eagle Scout candidate Austin Rankin, 16. Left to right, Kendall Whitehat, scoutmaster Victor Mannie and an unidentified volunteer.
An open letter to the Page city council and city manager from Larry Clark:
I have a project that I recently started before being [laid off] as Page fire chief. I respectfully request you support the project, one and all. At this time I suspect portions of the project are in limbo and potentially in danger of abandonment.
Over many years, Page Fire Department has been responding to LeChee Indian Village to aid our neighbors with fire, rescue and ambulance services. It has been a constant battle to find fire hydrants and then after finding one, hoping it worked. I recently initiated a program with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) in an effort to correct this situation. This is the project for which I plead for your support. First the plan, the final goal, the project, followed by the history and then the problems, concerns and conclusion.
The plan was to identify the deficiencies of the LeChee fire hydrant system and get get NTUA to correct the mechanical problems. Then get a Boy Scouts of America Eagle candidate to plan and execute the initial maintenance of the immediate grounds, clean and paint the bollards and hydrants, apply reflective tape so that hydrants can be found at night and number them so when problems occur authorities know which hydrant is being referred to. After that, PFD staff would use a GPS unit to identify all hydrants, locate them on an area map, and include the 28 hydrants in the routine testing and inspection system of the department.
Have working and locatable hydrants in the village of LeChee.
Have routine maintenance and testing of the hydrants.
Reduce insurance rates for LeChee residents.
Build a better bond with our neighbors.
Reduce the frustration of PFD firefighters in dealing with a seriously deficient fire hydrant system and reduce the danger of fighting structural fires using tank water when hydrants are in place.
And most importantly, save property and lives.
The project is under way and the following are in play.
I have contacted the administrative head of NTUA in Tuba City and we have exchanged many e-mails and met several times. We have the Tribe’s blessing to move forward and they have already expended funds for supplies and promised to do needed repair to damaged hydrants and protective bollards.
PFD staff has GPS mapped the system and known factors are already entered in the PFD Emergency Reporting System database.
The repair work necessary to bring the hydrants to standard has been reported to NTUA.
An Eagle Scout Candidate has been selected and he is in the final stages of approval of his project and will be starting work shortly. I am listed on his paperwork as coach for the project and that part of the project will go forward. The scout has the supplies and materials already provided by the Navajo Nation. He had my assurance of the cooperation of PFD and the promise of the availability of shovels, hydrant wrenches, wire brushes, etc.
After the Eagle project is completed, PFD would fold the inspection and record keeping into the PFD ERS data base. It would add 28 hydrants to the already 650 hydrants currently being inspected. Day-to-day maintenance would still be the responsibility of NTUA except for the normal inspections and maintenance done by PFD similar to city owned hydrants.
Page has for years provided fire, rescue and ambulance service to the village of LeChee except when political in-fighting has prevented it. For brevity and to leave old baggage buried I will not go into the detail.
Potential problems and concerns
Hydrant testing takes too much PFD time and mileage. Spend the time now, not in the middle of the night at a fire or hauling water 500 gallons at a time in an engine. I have driven all over LeChee searching for a hydrant. Crews will know where they are after servicing them a few times plus they will get to know LeChee better. The testing is done when no other assignments are pending. The residents of LeChee are our neighbors and they are in need.
What does Page get in return? We bill for residential fires in Tribal-owned structures as those units are insured. Some residents have renter’s insurance which could potentially be billed. Otherwise it is a humanitarian endeavor.
What if a PFD firefighter gets hurt or an apparatus is damaged? The city carries insurance and the insurance agent knows what we do.
What about the liability? I answer that question with a question also. Could you really live with yourself while somebody’s home and vehicles are burned, their belongings are destroyed, and possibly their lives are lost?
I have taken that risk every day of my career for 48 years — you are talking to the wrong cowboy! I have arrived on scene this year at a fire in LeChee and found a resident on the roof of a burning house with a garden hose trying to hold the fire back until PFD got there — because he knew we were coming.
What does this have to do with the PFD ambulance operation? Nothing. Each person in LeChee who is treated or transported is billed for the service and all AHCCCS, Medicare, and other assorted insurance agencies are billed by PFD’s billing company.
This is a worthy cause, the cost is negligible, it will save time and fuel in just a few responses to fires in LeChee. It will save property and potentially lives. I am willing to volunteer my time in any way possible to make this project work. Even if it means testing the fire hydrants myself. All I would need is access to the PFD tools necessary to accomplish the mission.
Larry D. Clark is the former chief of the Page Fire Department who lost his job when city council laid off several department heads in an effort to reduce spending in the upcoming city budget. He is also a retired U.N.P.S. ranger.
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