Residents of McKeesport's Grandview neighborhood should not be alarmed if they see fire trucks --- especially water tankers --- in the area on Saturday morning.
City firefighters and volunteers from other communities will be evaluating new procedures and routes for responding to fires in the neighborhood, McKeesport fire Chief Jeff Tomovcsik said.
Officials are trying to be proactive and plan ahead before an emergency, he said. Lack of water volume at hydrants is being blamed for the damage caused by an early morning fire June 16 on Cleveland Street that sent four people to the hospital, destroyed a family's home and damaged five others, one seriously.
McKeesport is also "actively looking" for a water tanker of its own for the fire department, for use in the Grandview neighborhood, Tomovcsik said.
It has become standard protocol, according to city officials, to request water tankers from other departments when responding to fires in the Grandview neighborhood, especially along Cleveland and Banker streets.
On June 16, tankers responded from Lincoln Borough, Monroeville and Rostraver Twp.
"Most fire departments in Allegheny County don't have tankers, because they don't need them," Tomovcsik said. "In McKeesport, for instance, 95 percent of the city has hydrants."
But Mayor Michael Cherepko and Tomovscik said that in part of the Grandview neighborhood, the hydrants --- for which the city pays its water provider, Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, $30,000 per year --- don't provide sufficient water to fight fires effectively.
Cherepko and Tomovcsik said this week that the city and residents have been complaining for years about the problem.
The Westmoreland authority is the largest public water authority in Pennsylvania, according to its website. It is managed under contract by Resource Development and Management Inc. of Forest Hills, a private company founded by former Allegheny County development director Joseph Hohman, attorney and former Pennsylvania Turnpike commissioner James J. Dodaro, and accountant Jacob Skezas.
Kukura has an ownership stake in RDM, according to a 2017 story in the Tribune-Review.
The authority has promised that $2.1 million in improvements to McKeesport's water distribution system are coming.
But neither an authority spokesman nor Michael Kukura, the authority's resident manager, have responded to questions from Tube City Almanac about why the distribution system doesn't work, or when they first learned of problems.
The authority issued a brief statement on Monday, following a meeting with city officials. "Our statement is all we have to say at the moment," Matthew Junker, authority spokesman, told Tube City Almanac on Friday.
Grandview, like many older city neighborhoods, has narrow streets, and on-street parking can make it difficult for fire trucks to get access to some houses, Tomovcsik said.
On Saturday, he said, firefighters will be looking for the best traffic routes, and the best places to stage water supplies. Firefighters are also asking residents, whenever possible, to avoid parking at corners, Tomovcsik said.
"We've got people parking right up to the intersections in some cases, and it makes it difficult to make turns," he said.
In addition, he said, emergency personnel are asking residents to use off-street and alley parking whenever possible.
During the June 16 incident, Tomovcsik said, a boat that was parked on the street in front of a house was accidentally struck by a fire truck responding to Cleveland Street.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Allegheny County fire marshal's office. Investigators are interviewing the residents of the home, officials said.
Originally published June 22, 2018.