Briarcliff Fire Made Worse By Broken Hydrant

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This private, out-of-service fire hydrant was 50 feet away from the fire that destroyed a maintenance garage at Brandywine Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Briarcliff Manor.
This private, out-of-service fire hydrant was 50 feet away from the fire that destroyed a maintenance garage at Brandywine Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Briarcliff Manor. Photo Credit: Nathan Bruttell
This fire hydrant was more than 700 yards away from the Thursday night fire on Sleepy Hollow Road in Briarcliff Manor.
This fire hydrant was more than 700 yards away from the Thursday night fire on Sleepy Hollow Road in Briarcliff Manor. Photo Credit: Nathan Bruttell
Firefighters walk up a hill leading into Brandywine in Briarcliff Manor to assist with the fire, more than 700 yards away in a maintenance garage.
Firefighters walk up a hill leading into Brandywine in Briarcliff Manor to assist with the fire, more than 700 yards away in a maintenance garage. Photo Credit: Nathan Bruttell

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – As a fire raged on at the Brandywine maintenance garage Thursday night, Briarcliff Manor firefighters had to use hundreds of yards of hose to connect to a fire hydrant nearly half a mile away.

Now, village officials and firefighters can only speculate what might have changed had they been able to connect to the private fire hydrant just 50 feet from the building at the Brandywine Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, 620 Sleepy Hollow Road in Briarcliff Manor.

Firefighters from numerous departments were called in to help connect the hoses and provide assistance Thursday night, said Briarcliff Fire Chief Mike King.

“We had some issues with the hydrant here because it was out of service,” King said, noting that Ossining, Pocantico Hills, Hawthorne, Croton and Archville fire departments were called to assist. “The other hydrant was at least 700 yards away. So we had a shuttle operation for the tankers and had to bring in additional tankers for backup.”

The New York state fire code requires that private fire hydrants be maintained by the property owners, and it also requires regular testing, maintenance and inspection. After learning of the faulty hydrant in February 2010, Briarcliff Manor officials informed representatives of Brandywine and advised them of the state fire code, according to village records.

“Would anything have been saved if they had done what they were supposed to do? I’m not going to conjecture,” said Briarcliff Manor Village Manager Philip Zegarelli. “Was there a problem initially of fighting the fire with adequate water? Yes. They did their darnedest with what they could.”

Zegarelli said it was fortunate that the maintenance garage was empty and condemned and that no one was injured.

“It appears to have been caused by a lightning strike,” Zegarelli said. “The building was condemned five years ago and, unfortunately, history caught up with it. However, the village was on top of it and we advised them of such.”

The pipe that supplies the private hydrant reportedly broke after freezing, Daniel Matarainen, Brandywine’s director of environmental services, said in an emailed response to the village in February 2010.

“It is running in the basement below the garages [where] there is no heat. We are trying to repair without it breaking again,” Matarainen wrote in the email. “We will hold harmless the Village of Briarcliff Manor, in the event of any damages or injuries [due] to fire.”

Brandywine representatives were not immediately available for comment Friday.

Zegarelli said there are dozens of private fire hydrants around the village, but he did not know if records were kept on whether the hydrants are in service. Out of about 600 municipal hydrants throughout Briarcliff Manor, Zegarelli said, four are currently out of service.

“There may be a handful, but they are marked, encased in heavy plastic, and we notify the Fire Department and Police Department of the next nearest hydrant,” Zegarelli said, adding that it was highly unlikely that the next nearest hydrant would be more than 100 yards away. “I know of no fixed distance [between hydrants] or grid that is required by local or state law.”

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Private property owners should consider installing a 30,000 gallon underground fiberglass cistern emergency water tank with a dry-hydrant connection. Engines can fill up at the dry-hydrant. Greenwich F.D. has done this in their backcountry
quite effectively where there is no municipal water supply or hydrant system.

Thanks for letting us know. I'll add it to the story. -- Debra West, editor

Archville FD was also called in to assist.