Fire Department makes runs to fill private swimming pools

By Staff
April 1, 2001
Mississippi Supreme Court, 1983
Meridian firefighters laid out nearly a quarter mile of hose to the south Meridian home of Lillian McMullan on March 21. A pumper truck hooked into the nearest water hydrant and trained firefighters went to work in response to an action authorized by Meridian Fire Chief Bunky Partridge.
Firefighters made a similar run on Dec. 14, 2000 to the north Meridian home of Paul Nuckolls. Again, Partridge personally authorized the action and firefighters handled the assignment with the use of a fire department pickup truck.
Were these homes on fire? Did some other emergency require the efforts of firefighters trained and equipment maintained at public expense?
These are the two occasions since Jan. 1, 2000 on which official city records show Meridian firefighters were dispatched to fill privately-owned residential swimming pools with water.
Neither occasion appears on "fire runs," a list maintained by the Fire Department of where fire trucks go and for what purpose.
We know about these two runs from official city records obtained by The Meridian Star under the state's Public Records Act. Here's what else we know:
Under a Meridian city ordinance, it's all perfectly legal. Any one with a swimming pool can call up and make similar arrangements. The resident just has to pay for the water at the same price they'd pay if they used a garden hose, at least during certain times of the year.
According to the ordinance, between May 1 and Oct. 31, you can fill up your own pool without having to pay a double charge for sewer service.
But if you want the Fire Department to fill your pool (the hoses are bigger and the pool fills faster and may help avoid that nasty algae buildup), it works like this.
A homeowner calls the Water Department and requests that a swimming pool be filled on a certain date. The Water Department's Utility Billing section will require a $100 deposit on a temporary water meter, convey the request to the Fire Department, and arrange for the water meter to be attached to the hydrant nearest the home.
The Fire Department will come out and attach a hose to the hydrant, turn it on and fill the pool.
The Water Department comes back out, reads the meter and bills the homeowner for the amount of water used.
In the McMullan case, city records show 3,750 gallons went through the meter and into her pool. City records show she was billed $62.40 for actual water usage. In the Nuckolls case, 13,500 gallons were used.
All of this begs the questions: With other options clearly available, why would the fire chief dispatch city personnel  trained and well-equipped to fight fires to fill privately-owned swimming pools?
Is it good public policy to use city fire vehicles and personnel to fill swimming pools, even when it's legal and the resident pays for the water?
How can a pumper truck with a quarter mile of hose laid out behind it to a swimming pool respond immediately to a real emergency?
Partridge referred inquires to the head of the city's Utility Billing unit.
Alerted by city officials to The Meridian Star's interest, Mrs. McMullan and her son both called the paper to express outrage.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at bbynum@themeridianstar.com.

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