For most of us, Thanksgiving was a day of gluttony, camaraderie and football. There were good times with family, friends, strong drink and roasted bird corpses.
But for the residents of four Sedalia homes, Thanksgiving may never be the same again. Three homes were tragically lost in a roaring Thanksgiving fire of unknown origin. Could Thanksgiving ever feel the same way after such a tragedy? My heart goes out to them, and it was good to see the people of Sedalia springing into holiday action to help them.
There’s no ultimate rest for the emergency responder – even on Thanksgiving, there are situations that have to be handled.
We still don’t and might not ever know what exactly caused the fire, but we do understand some of the contributing factors: the wind was blowing hard that day, the homes were in close proximity and the yards were full of effective natural kindling in the form of fallen leaves.
But there was one more contributing factor to the devastating nature of this fire. These historic homes were served by historic water mains. To put it simply: when compared to modern standards and many of the other lines around the city these particular lines were small and didn’t allow firefighters to access as much water as they needed fast enough to work as effectively as they would have been able to otherwise.
There was no end to the inflow of equipment, vehicles and emergency personnel but even if there was an infinite supply of all of those things there’s still one thing that you need a steady supply of more than anything else if you’re hoping to contain a fire: water.
Hoses and connectors stretched for blocks as firefighters tried to find a relatively close water line that would would be big enough to provide the necessary water pressure for serious water delivery.
Outside of personal experience, the good people at the Sedalia Fire Department don’t have a definite way of knowing the size of the water main attached to any given hydrant. That means that they have to make serious split-second decisions about whether or not it would be more prudent to try the next hydrant or to stay where they are and continue the weak water stream from the current line.
Sure, they can make a reasonable guess based on the age of the homes in the area and the sizes of lines they are familiar with in the area, but I’m sure it’s still pretty tricky.
I had always figured that there was a map or some other sort of schematic that kept track of the sizes of the lines around the city, but I suppose that would be quite an undertaking that would require serious research, maybe even ground-probing research and a constant series of updates.
The supposed solution is reasonably simple, though it does require some expenditure to verify the sizes of the water lines of the city. After we do that, they’re talking about marking each hydrant with a color or something that corresponds to a certain size of line. That’s a good idea – the capacity for quick visual confirmation of the best possible hydrant could save lives, homes and property.
And we should probably look into expanding the smallest water lines in the city, and in a fantasy community with unlimited cash flow it would probably be a good idea to work towards some sort of water line size standard so that there would be no confusion.
The story about small water lines is the story of Sedalia in general. Like communities all over the country Sedalia does need some infrastructure improvements. But any city would after 150-plus years of existence. But it’s not going to be cheap.
Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.