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DC Water and Sewer Authority 
Letters to City Administrator Neil O. Albert
August 4 and 5, 2009




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TEL: 202-787-2809
FAX: 202-787-2333

August 4, 2009

Neil 0. Albert, City Administrator
Office of the City Administrator
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 521 
Washington, D.C. 20004

Dear Mr. Albert:

I appreciate your leadership in ensuring that the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) and the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services (Fire and EMS) coordinate through your office the review of the July 29, 2009 fire emergency at 3030 Chain Bridge Road, NW.

The Event

The WASA Command Center received a call from Fire and EMS with notification of a two alarm fire on Chain Bridge Road at 8:35 p.m. Consistent with standard procedure, a WASA investigation crew was dispatched to the scene at 8:40 p.m. and arrived on the scene at 9:00 p.m. to provide operational assistance as requested by Fire and EMS. The crew reported that only 8-inch mains were available in the immediate area and proceeded to check the position of valves in the immediate area to ensure optimum operation of the distribution system in that location. Fire and EMS also contacted WASA Department of Water Services Manager David Wall at 8:37 p.m. The WASA Command Center contacted the Acting Director of WASA Department of Water Services Curtis Cochrane at 8:41 p.m. When Wall arrived on the scene at 9:15, he was asked by Fire and EMS personnel to provide the location of larger mains. A 30-inch main was identified approximately 3,000 feet from the incident, and a 16-inch main was identified approximately 900 feet from the incident.

This incident appears to be almost identical to the circumstances that occurred with the Adams Mill Road fire in 2007, the distribution system did provide sufficient flow to the area, but it was necessary to tap the hydrants on more than one small (6-inch or 8-inch) water main in order to do so. In order to have secured and maintained adequate fire flows at the Adams Mill Road fire, it would have been necessary:

  • For Fire and EMS to tie in only the limited number of pumpers to a single small water main based on its rating as identified on WASA counter maps, and
  • For Fire and EMS to deploy to other small or large mains in the area to assure continued availability and increased flows with which to fight the fire.

Availability of Fire Flow on July 29, 2009

Preliminary reviews on July 30, 2009, indicated that sufficient fire flows were available. This conclusion is based upon the hydraulic model used to support operation of the District's water distribution system and confirmed by the flow tests conducted by WASA crews subsequent to the f re at 303 0 Chain Bridge Road. This data confirms that the distribution system made available a fire flow of 1,000 gallons per minute within a radius 1,000 feet from the fire emergency. I understand that the flow tests conducted by an independent third party under contract with Fire and EMS on Sunday August 2, 2009 confirmed the availability of adequate fire flows for fire suppression.

Customer Complaints Water Pressure Concerns and Out of Service Fire Hydrants

It is important to note that there is significant confusion in the public mind regarding customer "water pressure complaints" and their relationship to the availability of fire flows from public hydrants that Fire and EMS requires in a fire emergency. Only in very unusual instances will a customer complaint be an indicator of an unidentified and dangerous systemic pressure problem that will impact flow availability to fight a fire because the hydraulic variation in the distribution system (static pressure) is fairly constant. In general, customer low pressure complaints are not related to fire flow availability, as you will note from the enclosed data.

Fire and EMS conducts hydrant inspections twice annually, and completed its first round of the 2009 inspections a few months ago. The single out-of-service hydrant on Chain Bridge Road was clearly marked and was immediately identifiable by firefighters when they arrived in the vicinity of 3030 Chain Bridge Road (the status of the hydrant was also available to Fire and EMS personnel in advance of the alarm using the Google Earth application WASA developed to enhance the exchange of information between the two agencies.) Hydrant status had no impact on the response to the fire emergency at 3030 Chain Bridge Road.

Memorandum of Understanding between WASA and Fire and EMS

WASA and Fire and EMS have implemented a very thorough and ongoing program of public fire hydrant inspections, maintenance and repair. The WASA Board of Directors also approved a $25 million 5-year Fire Hydrant Upgrade Program which will result in 3,400 upgraded hydrants. Phase Two of the Upgrade Program, an additional $29.5 million, will be submitted to the Board of Directors as part of the 201.0 WASA budget proposal.

To date, WASA has replaced approximately 3,200 hydrants, well in excess of the program goal of 540 replacements each year. We have also flow tested almost 2,400 hydrants to date (upgraded hydrants are flow tested and marked with color-coded bands indicating flow availability.) You will note from the enclosed data that we have achieved significant milestones, including:

  • WASA made available to Fire and EMS Distribution system "counter" maps indicating the location of water mains, their sizes and the placement of hydrants
  • Developed automated processes for reporting hydrant status in real time (handheld GIS and Google Earth Application)
  • Provides routine reports with agreed upon format for sharing updated hydrant status data
  • Agreed to and is installing standard hydrants meeting NFPA standards
  • Worked with Fire and EMS to address tactical challenges in locations where there are manmade or natural impediments to Fire and EMS access to the distribution system (fire flows that meet the 1,000 gallon per minute/1,000 foot radius standard)
  • WASA and Fire and EMS established a Technical Committee that meets monthly to facilitate clear two-way communication
  • Designation of a principal point of contact within WASA to coordinate the Inspection, Repair and Maintenance Program
  • Purchase/transfer of capital equipment to Fire and EMS (vehicles, tools, etc... )
  • Complete cost of service study (the District agreed to reimburse WASA for expenses related to fire services, including but not limited to those incorporated as WASA obligations in the MOU.)

As your staff requested, we have provided to your office a substantial body of information that is relevant to your review of this matter. I have enclosed this information for your review.

In summary, it is alleged that the following three issues have been identified as having impeded the ability of Fire and EMS to fight the fire at 3030 Chain Bridge Road:

  1. Low pressure in the service area
  2. Mechanical condition and serviceability of public fire hydrants 
  3. Availability of adequate water flows for fire suppression

In fact, not one of these distribution system performance issues has been shown to be deficient with regard to the availability water supply to Fire and EMS to suppress the fire in this emergency.

Again, thank you and Mayor Fenty for your leadership and support in ensuring that the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) and the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services (Fire and EMS) coordinate through your office a thorough and objective review of the July 29, 2009 fire emergency at 3030 Chain Bridge Road, NW.


Avis Marie Russell Interim 
General Manager


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August 5, 2009

Mr. Neil O. Albert, City Administrator 
Office of the City Administrator 
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 521
Washington, D.C. 20004-3003

Dear Mr. Albert:

Thank you for providing the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) the opportunity to participate in the CapStat meeting with you on yesterday evening and again this morning with you and the Mayor.

As requested, attached is WASA's response to the preliminary recommendations of the Office of the City Administrator (OCA). We have also provided recommendations to improve service to our customers and the residents of the District of Columbia.

We agree that we should work together to find solutions and improve communication and operational assistance between WASA and the Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS). I recognize that the recommendations are preliminary but as presented, all of the recommendations state actions that should be taken by WASA. There is not one recommendation directed to FEMS. I think that to present the recommendations in this manner implies that only WASA needs to act and this is inconsistent with the findings and the discussions we have had over the last several days.

I hope your team will take WASA's letter to you of August 4, 2009, recommendations and comments into consideration as you prepare the final report. WASA is willing to continue to provide assistance to FEMS in its efforts to excel in providing firefighting services. Thus far WASA has spent over $32 million dollars on behalf of the District of Columbia for tasks associated with the MOU. Pursuant to Section 3.13 of the MOU the District is responsible for these costs. If FEMS and/or the District would like to have tasks completed under the MOU more expeditiously and/or change the tasks to be accomplished, we can advise you of the cost so that you can budget for these expenditures.

In the meantime, we all have to work with the resources we currently have at our disposal. Therefore, we renew our offer to FEMS to provide training to FEMS in understanding the water distribution system and in using the counter maps that have been provided.

The staff of OCA and Capstat has worked cooperatively with WASA over the last few days. Working collaboratively is essential to providing first class service to our customers and your constituents.


Avis Marie Russell 
Interim General Manager

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