EXCLUSIVE: Water Main Breaks on Webster Avenue Likely Connected to Church Fire in Downtown New Rochelle

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EXCLUSIVE: Water Main Breaks on Webster Avenue Likely Connected to Church Fire in Downtown New Rochelle

February 14, 2011 - 22:49

WaterMain FireWhat appeared to have been two different stories may be one story, Talk of the Sound has learned.

Multiple sources in and out of New Rochelle have told Talk of the Sound that the two water main breaks on Webster Avenue occurred shortly after the New Rochelle Fire Department requested increased water pressure to cope with the five-alarm blaze that torched the United Baptist Church on Main Street in downtown New Rochelle early this morning.

According to these sources, shortly after the New Rochelle Fire Department responded to the church at 1:24 AM, New Rochelle fire officials were experiencing low water pressure. They asked United Water to increase pressure. Within an hour or two, there was flooding in homes along Webster Avenue. According to one resident on Webster Avenue near Lakeview Road, New Rochelle police informed him at 4:38 AM that water was pouring into his driveway and garage.

Several hours later, fire officials on scene at the United Baptist Church fire estimated they had poured over 3.5 mm gallons of water on the building which they fought from the outside due to collapsed floors within the building. That figure has since gone higher.

Talk of the Sound has asked United Water and the City of New Rochelle for comment but has yet to received a reply.

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Did a lack of water pressure prevent firefighters from containing the fire? Could one of New Rochelle’s historic structures have been saved if firefighters did not have to wait for United Water to increase the pressure? Many say yes. It is unacceptable for New Rochelle firefighters to respond to fires and then have to call United Water to increase the water pressure.

This time we were lucky and no lives were lost, the next time the outcome may be different. It is time for the plans for forced density to end in Southern New Rochelle and for our elected officials to act in the best interest of the city’s residents to make sure that the entire city - including fire hydrants - have adequate water pressure.

Inadequate water pressure is a serious public safety issue and should be a wake up call for New Rochelle. The size and scope of this inferno not only claimed a historic building but clearly illustrated the perils of low water pressure. Firefighters had to call and wait for an increase in water pressure and watch the fire burn, while water mains broke in New Rochelle North with reports of flooded basements and garages, Houston we have a problem!!! We are seriously over developed.

I joined the crowd of fellow citizens and students evacuated from local area housing. All bore witness to the disaster that was THISCLOSE to spreading to other structures. The flames were all too real and if the church was occupied, the story would have taken a more tragic turn.

Low water pressure in New Rochelle has been an issue for years, for home owners, apartment dwellers and business owners in Southern New Rochelle. United Water has repeatedly denied reducing water pressure but the devastating fire at the corner of Locust and Main Street tells another story, an ugly truth that New Rochelle is over developed and the city's infrastructure is dangerously over extended. This time a historic structure on the South End of New Rochelle was devastated by fire while residents on the North End faced flooded basements and garages from pipes that cracked under pressure. Clearly our infrastructure has passed its breaking point.

June 22, 2010, I wrote about the concerns of area residents who could not take morning showers due to the lack of water pressure that began when the Trump Tower and both Avalons were built. If there isn't enough pressure for downtown residents to take a shower on a normal morning, no wonder there is inadequate pressure in the hydrants. What we saw was our brave firefighters respond, open the hydrant, discover low water pressure, place a call to United Water and then wait for the pressure to increase while watching the fire consume the building. Low water pressure was addressed at a community meeting in Legion Hall with New Rochelle government officials six months ago. Was this dangerous issue resolved, the answer is no.

So, the questions to be asked are: Was the early retreat by the fire department due to a lack of water pressure? Why when United Water increased the pressure, pipes broke flooding homes? How much time lapsed between the time the fire department called United Water and the pressure was increased enough to fight the fire? Did waiting for United Water result in a larger fire? Why isn't there enough water pressure? Exactly how much money is United Water charging the city for the fire hydrants and is there an extra charge for adequate water pressure in the hydrants? How much time really passed before the fire department had the pressure they needed to fight the fire? How will our city leadership correct this situation? Is there a plan to fight fires that occur in the high rises and dormitories?

By the grace of God no one was in the church when the fire broke out. If this happened in a home, apartment building, high rise or dormitory, how many lives would be lost waiting for the pressure to be increased. We must face the fact that New Rochelle's downtown business district is over developed and lives are at risk and any additional development is criminal and will certainly result in loss of life. At some point common sense has to prevail over favors given in return for political donations. Let’s learn from this tragedy and demand from United Water the services we pay for. The time for all of our elected and salaried leadership to act is now or will City Hall and United Water continue fiddling as New Rochelle burns?

A standing ovation for our local and regional fire responders. We thank and salute you.