COVINGTON, LA (WVUE) - Andrew Melton loves his Tuscany West Estates neighborhood in Covington, but couldn't live without a basic utility any longer. "Somebody's house could have burned down, and that was my biggest concern, and I kept saying, I'm not gonna live with that on my conscience," Melton said. Six fire hydrants in the development had been buried for more than two years.
"They were buried under landscape. The sod was all the way up to the hose attachments so you couldn't even get to the hose attachment," Melton explained. The chief of administration for Goodbee Fire Department, St. Tammany Fire District 13 Clint Ory, confirmed to FOX 8 the hydrants were deemed unusable - a concern he says was reported to Tammany Utilities twice.
Melton says his homeowner's association tried to get answers, but never could, so he reached out to the utility on his own. "We'll call you. We'll let you know. We're gonna send somebody out in two weeks, but nothing," he said.
Past the point of frustration, he turned to us for action. "I said you know what, I'm gonna call FOX 8 Defenders. I'm like we need to get the situation under control," Melton said.
The FOX 8 Defenders made one call to St. Tammany Parish government, and less than 24 hours later, Melton saw changes had been made to access the fire hydrants. "The next day, the next day," he said.
Every hydrant that had been deemed inaccessible is now exposed and usable, giving Melton some satisfaction. It was a health and safety hazard St. Tammany Parish called unacceptable.
"After we sent out a crew to dig those fire hydrants up, we instituted an emergency task order so that we can have someone go out and insert a pipe, raising those fire hydrants to a level that is equal to the surrounding area," St. Tammany Parish Director of Public Information Ronnie Simpson said. That same day, neighbors spotted a St. Tammany crew elevating the hydrants that had been buried for so long.
"When we go through before the builders get there on the sign off for the subdivision those fire hydrants met whatever standards were in place at the time. The problem that comes in when a builder comes in or a homeowner or whoever comes in and adds fill to that situation.. for some reason the fire hydrants were covered up," explained Simpson.
Tuscany West homeowners hope firefighters will never have to use the hydrants, but if they do, they now have appropriate access.
St. Tammany Parish says there's already an ordinance on the books, which says you can't hinder a fire hydrant within 10 feet. However, now Simpson says the parish is looking at rewriting the development code to make that ordinance more specific and possibly include a fine for any violations.
The FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women also field consumer complaints at 1-877-670-6397 or you can fill out an online complaint form.