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Broken water main hampers fire fight

It was about 5 p.m. Oct. 11 when a water main broke at Jackson Avenue and Icy Road, and every bit of north Russellville lost water for a few hours – which usually wouldn’t be a major issue.

It was about 6:45 p.m. when the call came in of a structure fire in that area of the city.

Russellville Fire Department Chief Joe Mansell said firefighters could see the heavy smoke from Highway 43 as they responded to the call. “By the time they got there, there were pretty heavy flames coming out of the garage.”

Fire is a threatening danger under the best of circumstances, but firefighters already knew the dual-battle they were up against when the call came in, since Russellville Utilities had alerted dispatch of the water situation.

“The timing was not the greatest thing,” said foreman Eric Hill – which might be putting it lightly. “An eight-inch line broke. We were going home for the day. I got home and started getting calls of ‘no water,’ and we had to chase it down … Nobody had water even before we shut it down, so we had to shut it down, and we couldn’t turn it back on and give them water because the main was broken. We started working on the main, digging on it, around 6 p.m., and we didn’t get it back online until probably 11 p.m.”

Mansell said knowing about the water problem in advance was key to RFD being able to fight the structure fire successfully. Capt. Aubrey Harris immediately called for back-up, in the form of tankers from Littleville, Tharptown and Blue Springs, as well as extra off-duty personnel. “Every truck that we had was headed that way to start shuttling water,” Mansell said. “Any time that you hear a hydrant’s not working, it’s a concern, but when you know you have (back-up assistance) coming, there wasn’t much of a lapse in water.”

Capt. Neil Willis came in relief of Harris as the fire fight continued, as fire trucks raced up and down the highway, toting water from a hydrant near station 2, south of the main brake, to the fire, just a few minutes away. “The water never stopped,” Willis said. “The main truck that was pumping never ran out of water because we were relaying it in. At no time was the truck out of water.”

Willis said with so many trucks on scene, the fire response was smooth and effective.

Hill and Mansell said in all their time with their respective departments – 14 years for Hill and 25 for Mansell – they have never dealt with circumstance quite like that. Mansell thanked Hill and other responding fire departments, as well as his own firefighters, for their assistance in ensuring what could have been a worse situation was kept under control.