Historic Burien Cabin Burns Down; Was Malfunctioning Fire Hydrant To Blame?

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Tuesday night (Nov. 9), around 8:30pm, an old cedar cabin located on the north end of Maplewild Ave SW in Burien, burned to the ground.

Part of the reason it was a total loss may be because after initially hitting the flames with water from a tank, the fire truck could get no more, due to a malfunctioning fire hydrant.

Initial reports indicate the blaze may have been started by a heat lamp in the cage of a pet reptile.

According to KING-TV:

The home was fully engulfed by the time they (firefighters) arrived, but the flames weren’t the only problem. They ran out of water.

Firefighters immediately hit the fire with 500 gallons of water from their tanker, and then went to the nearest hydrant. But when they turned it on, it didn’t work.

Molly Kongslier’s family has owned the property for 103 years. She claims the cabin served as a ticket booth in 1962 to Seattle’s World Fair.

KING also says that on Wednesday (Nov. 10), crews from Water District 20 fixed the fire hydrant by 3pm.

We contacted Doug Leudeman, Battalion Chief for the Burien/Normandy Park Fire Department, and this is what he said:

There was a hydrant issue at this fire.  When our crews arrived on scene they set up to use the hydrant closest to the house that was burning.  They dropped a “dry line” from the truck and drove to the fire.  They were going to use the 500 gallons they carry on board to do a quick knock down and fight the fire and have the next engine that arrived hooked up to the “dry line” to the hydrant. then open  up the hydrant and start the water flowing to the engine at the fire before the 500 gallons was used up.  This is a very common practice and it typically works very well allowing for continuous fire fighting from the time we arrive until the fire is out.  When the next engine arrived they hooked the supply line that was going to the truck at the burning house to the hydrant, when they went to open the hydrant the nut on the top turned freely and would not open the hydrant. At that point the crews went down the street about 300 feet and hooked up to the next one, successfully supplying water to the Engine that was fighting the fire.  As you would expect all this does take some time so there was a delay, but the engine at the fire was able to keep the fire from spreading to any neighboring structures with the 500 gallons they had on board. They did run out of water for a short time but they did get the supply established and finish extinguishing the fire as quickly as  possible.

Here’s KING-TV’s report:

[PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Burien/Normandy Park Fire Department]

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15 Responses to “Historic Burien Cabin Burns Down; Was Malfunctioning Fire Hydrant To Blame?”
  1. critical thinker says:

    According to King 5: “…the cabin was fully engulfed and a lost cause by the time Burien firefighters arrived.”

    According to the B-town Blog:
    “…burned to the ground because the fire truck could get no water.”

  2. Chris says:

    Yes. The fire hydrant was to blame. Witneses saw the hydrant set the house on fire and then run away from the scene.

    This part is mostly false:

    “Tuesday night (Nov. 9), around 8:30pm, an old cedar cabin, on the north end of Maplewild Ave SW in Burien, burned to the ground because the fire truck could get no water, due to a malfunctioning fire hydrant.”

    The fire was already out of control and almost 100% involved when the first engine arrived. The failure of the fire hydrant had no bearing on the outcome of this incident, as the delay in getting hydrant water simply delayed defensive extinguishment efforts.

    The primary concern for a fire like this, where the structure is fully involved and fairly close to other structures, is to protect the adjacent structures–which is what was done.

  3. Rob Halpin says:

    I was at the scene when the fire fighters arrived, and I can assure you that the house was fully ablaze at that time. I’m not sure what extra water could have done to save it.

    However, it’s an absolute shame that there was no water in the fire hydrant , and heads should definitely roll for that.

    I would like to see a follow up story on WHY there was no water in the hydrant, WHO was (ir)responsible, and WHAT the city is doing to ensure it won’t happen again.

  4. Chris says:

    Hydrant failures are rare. Every fire hydrant get inspected once a year. This involves functionally testing the hydrant to make sure it turns on and water flows like it should. Also, the connections are inspected for thread damage and then lubricated. Brush and any other obstructions are cleared away from the hydrant, so that it is easily visible AND a blue road reflector is placed as needed.

    As the Water District 20 rep mentioned in the King 5 piece, it simply was a fluke and there was nothing that could be done.

    So I don’t know who’s “heads” should role–if any. It was an anomoly.

    • Rob Halpin says:

      If it was a fluke, then possibly heads should stay where they’re supposed to be. 🙂
      However, I still feel that it’s unacceptable that such an essential service should fail when it’s needed.

      The cynic in me wants to know how the city ensures that these annual “checks” are performed. He also wants to know how the city, without any sort of review, can be sure that the “checker” was doing their job properly.

      If it was a fluke, the city needs review its processes. Perhaps it should check the hydrant twice (or more) a year? Maybe it have some sort of neighbourhood awareness and call-in system for damaged hydrants? I am positive there could be steps taken to help minimize the chance of this happening again.

      What it boils down to is this: It was a failure of an essential city service that resulted in property damage, and could very easily have resulted in the loss of many lives. IMHO, “Sorry, it was a fluke” just doesn’t cut it.

  5. Chris says:

    Mr Halpin,

    First of all, the City of Burien has no responsibility with regards to the water systems or the fire hydrants that are a part of them. The various Water Districts make up the entire water system in Burien. There are five water departments that serve Burien residents. Here is a map that shows all of them: http://www.burienwa.gov/DocumentView.aspx?DID=663

    In this particular case, the hydrant in question is in Water District 20’s service area.

    You want to know how these annual checks are performed and by who? The fire department (King County Fire District 2) inspects and operationally checks EVERY fire hydrant once a year. If you read my previous post (see above) I mention what step are taken to inspect these hydrants. EVERY hydrant is flowed to ensure that is functions properly. Any discrepancies are noted and then reported promptly to each respective water department. Hydrants that are found to be inoperative (very rare) are immediately reported to the appropriate water department, and the fire department internally notifies their personnel as to where an “out-of-service” hydrant is located.

    As far as the “checker” doing their job properly, it is the firefighters who actually do the annual inspections on each hydrant. Each crew is give an area to inspect and again, every hydrant is inspected. We’re doing our job properly, because it is in our best interest to ensure our water supply sources are functioning properly.

    In my 15+ years in the fire service, I have seen only two fire hydrants fail to operate. The first was due the hydrant being damaged (probably by a vehicle). in this instance, no citizen reported it.

    The second instance was two nights ago, where the internal components of the hydrant failed.

    Again, these types of instances are very rare. The remaining, numerous incidents I’ve been on where a hydrant was used have had no problems.

    Lastly, the failure of the hydrant did not result in additional property damage. The fire was 100 % involved when the first engine arrived. Keep in mind that the fire was initially attacked using tank water from the engine (500 gallons). The hydrant failure only delayed what was already a defensive fire, where no property could be saved.

    The hydrant failure was a anomolly.

    • Rob Halpin says:

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for taking the time to explain who inspects the hydrants and how they get inspected; I learned a lot. Respectful discussions on forums like these can be must enlightening.

      I find comfort in the knowledge that it’s good people of the the Fire Department that inspect the hydrants, and I’m confident that they do the very best they can with the processes and tools they’re given.

      Having said that. I still, stand by my assertion that this is unacceptable for me as a customer. In the aviation industry, if a piece of safety equipment should fail once out of thousands and thousands of flights, a review process to see why it failed and what steps are hydrant failure. I truly believe that there are extra steps that could have been taken to forecast the failure of that hydrant before that fire. Again, “Sorry, it was a fluke… case closed” just doesn’t cut it.

      I think my uncommon inflexibility on this matter may be due to the fact that I live down on the beach. If a fire should break out, I believe my house, my neighbours’ houses, and my life may count on the nearest hydrant working as getting to another would be very, very difficult and time consuming.

      All I’m asking is the those in charge take a look at this and think “How can we improve the reliability of the hydrants” rather than “Meh.. it was a fluke”. I think that’s fair, no?

  6. Chris says:


    This is an intersting debate. I simply do not have an answer for you at this point. The industry standard for hydrant inspection (per the National Fire Protection Association) is once a year. Could you check the hydrants more often. I suppose you could. But the same scenario could’ve happened if the hydrant was checked monthly.

    One thing I will say, is that hydrants vary between manufacturers, and some are “easier” to operate than others. In most cases the hydrants have similar internal components that open the valve (which is actually located underground and below the frost line). There are a couple of brands out there that are terrible to use and sometimes difficult to operate. One is the “Iowa” brand hydrant. Here’s a link to see what they look like: http://firehydrant.org/pictures/iowa_valve01.html

    These Iowa hydrants have an offset operating nut (as opposed to a center nut) that drives a jack screw. The jack screw drives a set of arms away from each other and pulls the valve open. Here’s a picture: http://firehydrant.org/mainphoto/fig3.jpg

    These hydrants can be very difficult to open and close, and I have personally broken one simply by trying hard to open it during a drill.

    The Burien area has a fair amount of the Iowa hydrants, with most of them in North Burien where the area is served by Seattle Public Utilities.

    The hydrant that broke on Tuesday night wasn’t an Iowa, but was a similar style (with the offset nut).

    If there was a case to be made to improve the reliability of the hydrants, then perhaps the various water department could use the most reliable type of hydrant. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed hydrants that just seem to operate better and are just plain easier to turn on and off.

    You may want to bring this up to the folks at Water District 20 to see if they have further information on which hydrants are “better” and if the hydrant in question will be evaluated further. It was fixed, but maybe a better operating hydrant could be used.

    Lastly, you mention you live on the beach. Do you live in a hard to access area? Do you have a long driveway? Could fire apparatus fit down there? Is you address easy to see? Do you need a tram to access you property? Is there trail only access?

    If the answer is yes to any of these questions, please contact the fire department, because they can create a pre-fire plan for your area/property. The fire department already has defined plans for hard to access areas (like homes located off of the Indian Trail), and it is fairly easy to create new ones for other areas. If we have information to make our jobs easier, all the better.

    • Chris says:

      The hydrant that broke (and then was repaired) was a P-90 model manufactured by the Rennselaer Valve Company. Here is a link : http://firehydrant.org/pictures/ren05.html . If you scroll to the bottom, you’ll see one that is exactly like the one we’re talking about.

      The Rennsselaer Valve Co. no long exists, and this particular model is pretty old (1960’s?).

      Again, this type has the “Toggle Action Main Valve” with the operating arms the ride the jack screw (aka operating stem). Not the best design IMHO.

      Anyways, a little hydrant history lesson…

      • Michael says:

        Thanks for providing solid background info on hydrants and how they work Chris, I really appreciated learning more about this subject through your comments.

      • John Gage says:

        Did you gentleman happen to look at the dates of the manufacturing of those hydrants? All of them are like more than 50 years old…!

        Like Chris said, that hydrant was built in the 1960’s. How can we expect these ancient designs to protect us so many years in the future?

        Rob Halpin made great points using the Aviation industry, but is the Aviation industry relying on designs from the early 1900’s?? Obviously not, so that comparison (as good as it was) doesn’t really apply.

        I beleive that fire hydrants are just plain overlooked and neglected. The crazy thing is, that these things are are only real defense for a fire!

        The hydrant 2 houses away from mine looks like it’s rusted all the way through. Who knows if it works. Like Rob’s point, why should we have to worry about that sort of thing?

        If there’s a new technology out there for hydrants, we need to get it into our streets so we’ll be safe a HUNDRED YEARS FROM NOW, not a HUNDRED YEARS AGO….

    • John Gage says:

      This forum has brought about a very interesting debate. It seems to me that what needs to be addressed is the reliablity of fire hydrants in general.

      Not one of you mentioned the fact that current fire hydrant designs are literally more than 100 YEARS OLD, not just manufactured in the 1960’s like that malfuctioning hydrant.

      After reading this forum and doing some additional research, I’ve learned that there is some NEW Fire Hydrant technology coming to the market that address’ the common problems of all fire hydrants. It’s called the “sigelock.” It was actually invented and developed by a NYC fireman. Take a look at this amazing piece of equiptment at http://www.sigelock.com

      Maybe all of the water districts in the state should contact this company to see about installing these things. The website offers real information about reliablity..

      And by the way “Chris”, try using ANY internet search engine for the words “malfunctioning hydrant” or “faulty fire hydrant” or “faulty hydrant” or even “frozen hydrant”

      You are sadly mistaken by making the statement that “hydrant failures are rare” – That statement in itself is as comical as your first postings sarcastic reply.

      You must work for either the water department responsible for that hydrant, or for the insurance company that covers it.. How can you even make that statement?

      I found hundreds of articles in reference to “hydrant failures” and that was just in THIS YEAR alone. Like Rob Halpin said, there shouldn’t be even ONE.

      The problem is obviously in the current design and materials they’re manufactured with.

  7. John Gage says:

    This forum has brought about a very intertesting debate. It seems to me that what needs to be addressed is the reliablity of fire hydrants in general.

    Not one of you mentioned the fact that curent fire hydrant designs are literally more than 100 YEARS OLD.

    After reading this forum and doing some additioanl research. Ive learned that there is some NEW Fires Hydrant technogy coming to the market that address the common problems of all fire hydrants. It’s called the “sigelock.” It was actually invented and developed by a NYC fireman. Take a look at this amazing piece of equiptment at http://www.sigelock.com

    Maybe all of the water districts in the satte should contact this comapny to see about installing these things. The website offers real information about reliablity..

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