- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A rural water district in southeast Nebraska and local fire departments are locking horns over the use of fire hydrants connected to the rural district’s system.

Cass County Rural Water District No. 1 recently sent certified letters to local fire departments - including Plattsmouth, Nehawka and Murray - saying hydrants on its system are not to be used for fighting fires, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (http://bit.ly/1gVaHNF ) Saturday. The letters say hydrants are for flushing the system and maintenance only.

The district fears that pressure from modern fire trucks could break the rural district’s plastic water lines, which were constructed in the 1970s and built for low-pressure domestic and farm use. The district also fears contamination from backflow from trucks not equipped with valves to prevent it, or from drops in pressure when firefighters use the hydrants.

But the request has riled local firefighters, who say they likely will use the hydrants in structure fires and life-and-death situations.

For years, the water district allowed firefighters to use its system, but asked that district employees be notified before a truck hooked up to a hydrant. It changed that policy sometime in March.

The issue came to a head on March 31, when the Plattsmouth Fire Department notified the water district it planned to use a hydrant to fight a grass fire.

A water district employee told firefighters they couldn’t use the hydrant and went to the scene. Plattsmouth Fire Chief Mike Wilson, in turn, called sheriff’s deputies. The deputies also went to the scene, but took no action.

Wilson said he called law enforcement because he thought the water district employee would try to stop firefighters from using the hydrant. Interfering with a firefighter during an emergency is a criminal offense, Wilson said.

“That was never an issue,” he said. “But if it was to be one, I wasn’t messing around.”

Water District Chairman Scott Sparks said the employee was there only to ensure the hydrant was used safely.

The water district is trying to comply with federal and state laws governing drinking water, and the letter was more about liability concerns than an attempt to stop firefighters from using the hydrants, Sparks said.

“It might be my house burning down,” he said. “I wouldn’t want the water shut off.”

Sparks said the water district plans to form a committee to work with fire departments to find a solution, such as specially designed filling stations for tanker trucks.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com