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WASA, City Still Pointing Fingers Behind the Scenes

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) is scheduled to release a preliminary report Friday on the July 29 blaze that destroyed the home of arts patron Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

But behind the scenes, the fire once again is pitting the District Fire and Emergency Medical Services against the Water and Sewer Authority as to whether low water pressure may have hamstrung efforts to put out the blaze.

In letters this week to City Administrator Neil O. Albert, WASA interim general manager Avis Marie Russell appears to warn the city to tread delicately before trying to find the authority at fault.

Russell wrote in a letter Wednesday that she was grateful for the chance to sit in on a meeting with Albert and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, but resented that the city could make WASA appear to be at fault in recommendations that the administration would make concerning the blaze.

"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," Russell wrote. "I think that to present the recommendations in this manner implies only WASA needs to act and this is inconsistent with the findings and the discussions we have had over the last several days."

She points Albert to a letter she sent Tuesday in which she outlined that the "alleged issues" did not exist. They were: "low pressure in the service area; mechanical condition and serviceability of public fire hydrants; and 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."

WASA Chairman William Walker is scheduled to appear with the mayor as he presents the preliminary report at a news conference Friday near Cafritz's home.

- Nikita Stewart

By Nikita R Stewart  |  August 6, 2009; 7:35 PM ET
Categories:  Nikita Stewart  
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the cold water pressure lessened by 50% about 4-5 weeks ago in silver spring maryland. who is responsible for that?

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | August 7, 2009 7:50 AM | Report abuse

You know, this could be easy to check. Just go out to the burned out home and TURN the WATER on. If WASA is so sure things are OK then have a news crew there when you do it.

Posted by: oocman | August 7, 2009 7:56 AM | Report abuse

As is the case with any accident it's a sure thing that the severity of this fire has multiple causes. It's entirely possible--no probable--that late discovery allowed the fire to grow to the point where the available water pressure was simply inadequate to control it. Determining the flow from the hydrants closest to the house and calculating the amount of water needed to control a large fire there does not fall under the category of rocket science. Both FEMS and WASA have room for improvement and there will always be hydrants out-of-service or water mains under-sized for a large scale event. You can eventually lay supply lines to get the water you need, the problem is that the building(s)will be destroyed before you do.

This controversy long ago transcended the facts and is now about ego and power. How unfortunate for the public.

Posted by: lashonda1 | August 7, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Arson anyone? But you can bet that the insurance company is looking for a way to not pay this claim. And is ti not strange that Cafriz managed to complete a detailed inventory before the fire started and she was out of town. Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Posted by: KBlit | August 7, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Why all the focus on one fire?

Posted by: rlj1 | August 7, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

WASA is a mess. This is not the first time they have had this problem along with all the other problems they have, like giant, broken water mains, lead in the water, a failing infastructure, dumping raw sewage into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers to name a few. There is very little, if any accountability when things fail. WASA just goes along their merry way.

Posted by: Brian_in_VA | August 7, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

Russell sounds like another Catoe (gm of Metro). Therefore, she should be fired for being uninformed, defensive, arrogant, misusing the public trust. It is time for WASA to stop dissing the fire department and fix its mains. With low pressures for WASA, we will have fatalities and injuries, all because of WASA mismanagement and not taking responsibility.

Posted by: axolotl | August 7, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

In Texas this would not be an issue. Texans don't like government a-messin' in their lives. So, public safety issues, like, such as, providing adequate water to suppress a house fire, are simply a matter of government getting out of the way of private enterprise. The free market will save your house.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | August 7, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Damn, Russell complained? There goes his job...

Posted by: boo2 | August 7, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

WASA is NOT a D.C. Government Agency for some who didn't know.

Also, I've heard it from workers in FEMS that there were hydrants with adequate pressure in the area of Cafritz home that FEMS were instructed to, months ago, use by the fire deparment in the event of fires. Fire just didn't use them during this fire.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | August 7, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

John Adams,

Be aware Most of Montgomery County gets it's water from
WSSC (Washington Sanitary Sewer Commission).

Posted by: patb | August 7, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

WASA has done a fantastic job to overcome years of neglect and abuse. The are no different than the overwhelming majority of systems is this country that have a crumbling infrastructue because politicians find money to build for their constituent but ignore maintenance once the ribbon cutting ceremony is done

Posted by: ECo34 | August 7, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Blame to go around. Yes, the main in that part of the neighborhood was woefully in need of maintenance. The day after the event, a neighbor showed a TV crew what the best source of water in his house was, the kitchen sink, which had a very low flow and barely enough pressure for a shower, let alone fight a fire. All of the hydrants that the FEMS tried to use were on the same main. ConcernedaboutDC is right--they had been instructed some time before to go to the next street which was on a different main for water pressure, but none of them did. Clearly WASA needs to update the mains and FEMS needs to pay attention when told where to get the appropriate water.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | August 7, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

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