Fire Plan to Provide New Water System

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As part of a new fire protection plan approved by the Berkeley City Council this week, firefighters may be able to use pump water from the bay in the event of a major fire.

This new auxiliary firefighting water delivery system would enable firefighters to pump water from the bay and the Aquatic Park to various sites across the city using mobile, flexible hoses and large pumping units.

As a result of the 1991 Berkeley Hill fires, Assistant fire Chief David Orth said the department demanded an auxiliary water system independent of the East Bay Municipal Utility Department system.

"This would give us a completely independent system from the East Bay MUD system and allow us to fight fires and not have to use drinking water to fight fires," Orth said. "After an earthquake, that could become very important."

The pumps will deliver up to 20,000 gallons per minute using five miles of "ultra-large" diameter hose. In addition, special ramps and hose bridges will enable traffic to drive over the hoses without damaging them or interrupting the flow of water.

"The system allows for the pumping of thousands of gallons of water per minute in a very simple system," said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean. "The hoses can be laid to wherever you want them to go."

A similar system was successfully used to fight the oil fires in Turkey that resulted from last year's earthquake, according to Dean.

This proposal replaces the underground saltwater pipeline project that was voted on in 1992. Dean said further studies showed that the saltwater pipeline project, originally expected to cost $24 million, would have in fact cost more than $30 million.

Because the newly proposed plan for the mobile pumps is expected to cost only $8 million, Dean said the city is saving taxpayers' money.

"Actually, we are reducing their tax bill by using the flexible hose project and the taxpayers of course have to approve this new project," Dean said.

Because city law prevents officials from using money obtained under an old ballot initiative for purchasing equipment, funding for the new plan will appear on the ballot in November and will be implemented if two-thirds of voters approve the project.

The proposal also requested the purchase of the surplus EBMUD Cragmont reservoir. The reservoir, which is currently empty, would provide an additional 750,000 gallons of water to be used for firefighting and drinking water, according to Dean.

Since the bond issue did not specifically name the reservoir as a planned expenditure, the city must petition a judge for a validation suit in order to purchase the reservoir without going back to the voters for approval.

"I feel we should approach East Bay MUD and get the reservoir at a greatly reduced cost because they get their money from the taxpayers and the taxpayers would be buying the reservoir," Dean said. "We should try to work out a deal."

The fire protection plan also calls for overall improvements in the existing fire protection program, disaster preparedness, fire department effectiveness and the EBMUD water system. It also seeks the development of an auxiliary firefighting water system.

In addition, the proposal includes the purchase of new fire engines and the repair of the seven fire stations. These projects were funded by a ballot initiative that provides $55 million over the next 20 years to fund critical improvements for disaster preparedness.


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