New Ellenton water shortage prompts fire disaster plan

By: Stephanie Baker
By: Stephanie Baker

September 5, 2006

In Aiken County, part of the New Ellenton water supply is depleting so quickly that there might not be enough to put out fires.

Two of the three Talatha Water District wells aren't working.

That means everyone has to either cut back, or risk running out of water.

The two hundred thousand gallons the water department has in reserve has to last until the wells are fixed, which could be a few more days. One fire can wipe out half that supply...that's why the local departments have a backup plan.

Fighting flames can take a thousand gallons of water. A few big fires in the New Ellenton area could wipe out the water supply for 1500 people.

That's why Jackson Assistant Fire Chief Andy Keller says they're planning ahead of time.

"A fire eats, and the longer it takes you to get there to do something, the more it eats," he says.

Several local fire departments work together whenever there's a structure fire.

Since some of the New Ellenton hydrants might not be an option, the other departments have to bring water to the scene.

Jackson Chief Chris Walker says that requires thinking fast under pressure.

"You've got a lot riding on it, and sometimes those decisions are hard to make," he says.

The decision is deciding where they should get the water.

"We can siphon water out of whatever we need to get it out of, whatever we can," says Asst. Chief Keller.

Options include lakes, pools, anyplace there's water, or a hydrant in another area.

But the Talatha hydrants pull from the area's already depleted source. With two pumps down, the city's 200,000 gallons in reserve won't last long.

Water district director Paul Johns says the 20 minutes it can take to find another source might be too costly.

"We don't want anyone's home to burn or anyone's life to be threatened," he says. "I'd rather run out of water than have someone lose their lives."

Johns says it's up to the firefighters to decide whether there's time to conserve the city's water source.

It's a quick decision they'll have to make in the heat of the moment.

New Ellenton does not have a tanker, so the surrounding departments will bring theirs to the scene in case of a fire.

One of the two broken pumps is now back up and running, but the health department still needs to run tests to make sure the water is safe.

The other pump was destroyed. The department ordered another one, and they're looking into how it broke.

Both should be up and running by the weekend.

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