Faulty hydrant causes delay in fire fight

SOMERSET, Mass. (WPRI) — Flames tore through a Somerset man’s home of 68 years Tuesday afternoon and claimed the lives of his two pets.

The fire started at about 1:30 p.m. at 235 Alberta Avenue, according to Somerset Fire Chief Scott Jepson.

The home’s only resident, 71-year-old Ronald Roberts, was babysitting his grandchildren and not home at the time of the fire. He said he’s been living there since he was 3 years old.

A neighbor called it in after seeing smoke and hearing popping noises.

It took crews about three hours to get the flames under control. The chief said they had the fire mostly knocked down using water from a fire truck’s tank, but when that ran out they tried to use two nearby hydrants – neither of which worked.

The town’s water department later determined that only one of the hydrants was broken, and miscommunication led firefighters to believe a second one was also out of order.

The delay was only 10 to 12 minutes, but that was enough for the fire to grow stronger. Firefighters were then able to find water from a third hydrant to knock it down.

No firefighters were injured, but they said Roberts’ dog and bird died.

The Red Cross is now assisting him with basic needs. He told us that along with losing his pets, he’ll never be able to replace the thousands of pictures he had of his children and his grandchildren, as well as his late wife’s Christmas ornament collection.

The house may now need to be demolished, according to Jepson. He said it appeared the fire started in the kitchen, but the cause remains under investigation.

Roberts’ brother-in-law said the house has been in the family for more than a century, and that it might have been saved had it not been for the faulty hydrant.

“My brother-in-law and sister spent many years in this home and unfortunately today, it was lost, and the reason it was lost was because the town of Somerset did not have any water to fight this fire,” Raymond Mitchell explained.

Jepson wasn’t sure why the fire hydrant wasn’t working, but said he’s never come across a non-working one in his more than six years as chief.

The water department is now working to figure out what was wrong with the hydrant.

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