Behind The Front Line: Assisting Abington's Bravest

Aqua is committed to making sure you have clean and affordable water to drink, cook and shower with, and take care of all of your household needs. What you might not realize is the very important role Aqua can play in saving your life and home if firefighters have to respond to a fire. We are proud to be a force behind the brave firefighters who serve your community. 

On October 30, when a fire started in the rental office of a large apartment complex in Abington, Pennsylvania, Aqua received an emergency call requesting the presence of water distribution staff at the scene. Aqua’s control center responded dispatching Emergency Utility John Loeffel to the scene. His presence was helpful and appreciated.

Speaking with an NBC10 reporter at the scene that night, McKinley Fire Company Chief Chris Bors cited the benefit of having a representative from Aqua on the scene when his firefighters were forced to abandon their interior attack when fire spread to the roof, threatening a cave-in. “When we switched to the exterior attack, obviously we were going to be requiring very large volumes of water. The county dispatch center sent a representative from Aqua Pennsylvania out and we got a couple extra supply lines laid from other hydrants that helped us out quite a lot,” said Bors.

 (via Twitter, @KatyZachry)

While some might find it curious for a water company to be called to the scene of a fire, that’s not the case for Aqua’s Assistant Superintendent of Network Operations Vince Santangelo, for whom these occasions represent just another day–or night—at the office. Santangelo, who has worked in Aqua’s distribution department for 17 of his 31 years in the water industry, has plenty of experience manning and sending operators to man fires to ensure there is enough ammunition for the utility to perform what he considers one of its most important responsibilities: supply water to fight fires. 

“It takes a more than just pressure in the system to effectively fight a fire,” said Santangelo. “You have to have to have good infrastructure. That is another reason why all of the main replacement and cleaning and lining we’re doing is so important. We’re putting in larger mains and cleaning and relining the older mains with restricted flow, which is so important for firefighting.” 

He recalls a massive fire in Conshocken Borough, Montgomery County a few years ago. “In Conshohocken we had a lot of pressure, but the fire was so large and there were so many fire companies hooked to so many hydrants, we needed to be onsite to ensure there was consistent flow.”

Many people have a difficult time understanding the difference between pressure and flow. Santangelo shares a unique scenario to explain the difference. “If you carry a 5-gallon bucket of water up a step ladder and spill the water on someone’s head, then do the same with a 10-gallon bucket of water, the difference in what they feel is flow. The pressure is the same because the water is being dropped from the same height in both instances. However, the person getting splashed will feel quite a difference between the 5-gallon splash and the 10-gallon splash. “

Santangelo said when distribution operators arrive on the scene of a fire, they are able to direct firefighters to hydrants that are on larger mains.  “When firefighters arrive, they will generally look for the nearest hydrants,” said Santangelo. “What they might not realize is that the hydrants might be on smaller mains. If multiple trucks hook up to hydrants on the same main, they have reduced capacity.  We know the intimate details of the distribution system, what size mains are connected to what hydrants and how pressure zones affect the system. This is valuable information we can provide to firefighters at the scene,” said Santangelo.

In addition to guiding firefighters to the best hydrants to use based on location and main size, he said, Distribution operators on site can contact the distribution control center to request that larger pumps be turned on to push more water into the area.

When fires are successfully extinguished, the distribution operator’s job is not done. “After the fire, we inspect every hydrant and automatic valve that was used during the fire to ensure that each is still working properly and ready for the next fire. In the case of the Abington fire, Santangelo’s team found two hydrants that required repairs, which were made by the company’s maintenance department following the fire. “While distribution operators are the foot soldiers in this effort, the process works well because it is truly a company-wide effort that involves good engineering, construction, maintenance and operations.”

“I know our primary service is public health because we are responsible for providing public drinking water, which all of us need to live. But public safety is a very close second in my opinion because we play a key role in helping firefighters protect the lives we nourish with our water.”


Fore more information:

NBC10 Philadelphia News Report

Abington Township Fire Department


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