Memphis Fire Dept. navigates historic water crisis to keep you safe

Updated: Feb. 22, 2021 at 10:50 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - What’s the critical thing you need to fight a fire in order to save lives and protect property? Good water pressure.

From the start of this crisis, MLGW said its priorities are to maintain water pressure for hospitals, prisons and fire departments. The Memphis Fire Department is taking no chances with your safety.

MFD is using firefighting techniques never used before in the history of the department.

“As you know, fighting fires requires water,” said MFD Director Gina Sweat said Monday, during an MLGW conference call providing an update on water service restoration.

The men and women under Sweat’s command have had an intense and challenging week.

Snow-covered roads made it tricky to maneuver for days. Rescues became extra hazardous in icy conditions. Temperatures below freezing for nine straight days made working outside particularly problematic. And now they’re dealing with water woes: busted pipes and low or no water pressure all across the city.

“It’s caused us to have to step back and look at our tactics,” said Sweat told WMC Action News 5. “And make sure we are using water in the most expedient manner possible.”

Sweat put out the call for help and rural fire departments from Fayette, Madison, Hardin and Williamson counties, along with the Jackson, Selmer and Millington Fire Departments answered that call by sending their tanker trucks filled with water to Memphis.

.“We had a commercial fire over the weekend on Democrat, and we deployed a couple of those tankers to bring in extra water to the scene,” said Sweat. “Normally we would’ve been pumping out of the fire hydrants to supplement our water supply.”

And for the first time in MFD history, firefighters used a dump tank, a large, portable water supply tool that is crucial when fire hydrants aren’t nearby or accessible.

“We’ve done a little extra training with our folks to make sure they understand that’s a fire tactic you usually see in rural areas,” said Sweat.

MFD history was also threatened by Mother Nature.

“All of this through here, which we consider the play area was about a foot and a half deep in water,” said Kimberly Crafton, the executive director of the Memphis Fire Museum in downtown Memphis.

Multiple pipes burst at the Fire Museum on Sunday night. Fire crews helped squeegee out the water until they were called away to handle other emergencies in the city.

Crafton says the museum will be closed for 3-4 weeks for repairs.

“Like the rest of the City of Memphis, we are trying our best to get through this,” she said.

The MLGW water crisis is putting Memphis firefighters to the test, and so far, they’re passing with flying colors, according to Sweat.

“We’ve really been able to maintain our regular, awesome service,” said Sweat, “And it’s service that the citizens of Memphis have grown to expect from us.”

MFD also has to make sure all the fire stations have bottled water and supplies. The firefighters who live at the fire houses during their shifts have to boil water and deal with low or no pressure just like 250,000 other MLGW customers.

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