Fire Officials Alert Town of Hydrant Hazard at Chappaqua Crossing

By Madeline Rosenberg

A portion of the retail area at Chappaqua Crossing where recent problems had been detected with many of the development’s fire hydrants. As of late last week, the issue had been resolved in all but one of the hydrants.

The Chappaqua Fire Department recently identified more than 20 fire hydrants at Chappaqua Crossing that had no running water or were rusted shut, threatening the safety of the bustling retail center.

The Town of New Castle has since restored nearly all of the hydrants to service as of last week. Developer Summit/Greenfield is currently responsible for maintaining the site’s fire protection equipment, not the town, said Town Administrator Jill Shapiro.

The hydrants are also part of a longer list of fire safety concerns at the former Reader’s Digest site, now home to about 120,000 square feet of retail space, which includes Whole Foods and Life Time Fitness.

“If there was a fire, we wouldn’t be able to get water out of them,” Russell Maitland, the fire chief at the Chappaqua Fire Department, said during a June 11 New Castle Fire District #1 commissioners meeting. “People’s lives are in jeopardy, that we have these hydrants there that don’t have water.”

Shapiro said the developers didn’t service the Chappaqua Crossing fire hydrants to make sure firefighters can access the water needed to fight a blaze, a condition of property ownership while the site remains under construction. Summit/Greenfield still plans to build 91 townhomes on another portion of the property.

The town annually services its hydrants, Shapiro said, and a private developer must do the same.

“Had they been maintained on some sort of schedule, opened once a year and lubricated, it would’ve been all good,” Shapiro said. “It’s still an active construction area, but you’ve got operating businesses there. It doesn’t mean that they’re not responsible to maintain the infrastructure.”

David Walsh, director of asset management at Summit Development, told The Examiner the hydrants were last inspected when new ones were put into service – about a year and a half ago.  Without the proper maintenance, a large portion of the fire hydrants at Chappaqua Crossing became unusable.

The Chappaqua Fire Department first noticed the problem and notified the town about a month ago, when the department went to refill a truck at the shopping center and no water came out of a hydrant. A check found that seven hydrants had no water flowing.

The department returned to Chappaqua Crossing for a training run, when they found that the caps would not come off about another 15 hydrants, Maitland said.

Both the fire department and town personnel broke a tool trying to open the hydrants, Maitland said, adding that the firefighters had to hit the hydrants with an axe more than 20 times to get a single cap off to access the water.

Maitland said the town went “above and beyond” to make the hydrants work again, sending the town fire marshal as well as the water and building departments to repair fire hydrants they do not yet own. The town resolved the safety issue as soon as the fire department notified the town, Shapiro added, because “we’re not going to fight over who’s responsible, we’re just going to fix it.”

Walsh said Summit Development will now carry out quarterly maintenance checks on the hydrants to make sure they continue working properly.

“We have a great relationship with the Town of New Castle. We’ve always had a good relationship with the Chappaqua Fire Department,” Walsh said. “This is one of those things that in the 20 years that this partnership is on the building, this is the first time something like this has happened.”

But Maitland said this isn’t the first time the fire department has found fire safety violations at Chappaqua Crossing, likely overlooked in the inspection process. He said the fire department has found improper electrical and gas plumbing installations, as well as a lack of carbon monoxide detection equipment and alarm systems that didn’t work properly.

“We’ve been there for a number of instances where people’s lives were in jeopardy,” Maitland said. “These issues should’ve been caught during an inspection. The hydrants are another thing to add onto the list of the problems that we’ve encountered at that property.”