Ex-Cheswold mayor: Water system upgrade needed to fight fires in ‘Old Town’

Donald Tinari

CHESWOLD — The third severe fire in the “Old Town” area in 15 months on June 26 rattled former Mayor Donald Tinari.

While in office the now-retired 90-year-old lobbied unsuccessfully to establish municipal water lines in an area besieged by residential blazes.

“I’ve been yakking about it off and on forever,” he said recently. “It’s obvious that when you have a dangerous area that size and no water to suppress a fire, that’s a problem.”

So when Mr. Tinari read about a woman’s death during last month’s fire at 179 Commerce St., recollections of failed attempts to establish infrastructure resurfaced.

The three fires occurred within roughly 400 feet of each other in the southwest part of town.

For years, according to Mr. Tinari, every potential avenue for potentially funding the quest met a dead end.

The Commerce Street area in Cheswold has seen three significant fires – one fatal – in the past 15 months. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

“We kept looking for somebody who could do something about it,” he said. “I just got discouraged about all the petty stuff that seemed to surface.”

Businesses and homes in the area draw their water suppy from private groundwater wells, which don’t facilitate fighting fires.

According to Cheswold Volunteer Fire Company, however, the $100,000 spent two years ago to run a line to the station from Tidewater Utilities provides an adequate water source to protect the nearby area.

Installation of hydrants throughout the growing town has assured coverage everywhere, Chief Josh Dempsey said recently.

“I’m comfortable that we’ve progressed to the point of reaching any spot in town in the past couple years,” Chief Dempsey said. “The fire companies are normally very good at adapting and coming up with ways to address the problems they face.”

With a hose stretched from the station to the recent blaze roughly a quarter mile away, Chief Dempsey said firefighters never lost water pressure when discharging roughly 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of water during a 20 to 25 minute response. No water tankers were required, which was the previous source before the station hydrant was installed.

The Cheswold Volunteer Fire Company invested $100,000 to install a waterline and hydrant to the station. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

“We were literally heading out of the station before the alarm blew after someone pulled in to alert us,” Chief Dempsey said.

The chief danger to the homes in the area is their close proximity. That can potentially accelerate a fire’s spread, especially if the wind blows a certain way, officials said. Shutting down the railway next to the row of Commerce Street homes and nearby New Street is also a must.

$1 million or more

Mr. Tinari said in a 2013 letter to then-Cheswold Fire Chief Jeffrey Brown that the estimated cost for a water system would be $1,000,000 and “probably more than that.”

Acknowledging Mr. Tinari’s prior attempts for a water system, Chief Dempsey said “[i]t’s been proposed before but people don’t want to pay for it.”

Also in 2013, Mr. Tinari appealed to Cheswold’s state legislators extolling the possibilities of improved infrastructure benefiting community growth.

“This potential can only be exploited by bring needed infrastructure to the Town and improving the general welfare of the residents,” Mr. Tinari wrote in a letter to the legislators. “A reliable and safe water system, Public Water, is a major component of successful community growth and is cited as such in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan whicch was approved by the State.”

At that point, Mr. Tinari was researching the possibility of obtaining grant money for a project. He said more than 50 percent of residences in Cheswold were rental units and “the living standard of many of the residents is the lowest in the state.” He described the project as “stalled.”

“Everyone was nice and seemed interested, but it never went anywhere,” he recalled. “My point was then and still is, do you really want to wait until someone dies?

“That still really bothers me.”

In August and September 2012, three meetiings were held to discuss bringing public water to Old Town.

A 33-year-old woman suffered critical smoke inhalation during a June 2016 blaze in the 200 block of Commerce Street. On April 1, 2015, an abandoned building was totally destroyed by a fire on New Street.

In a February 2015 report prepared by Remington, Vernick and Beach Engineers for the town, construction of 8-, 10- and 12-inch water mains were proposed for the Old Town area, along with four fire hydrants. It noted the Fox Pointe development and new subdivisions were served by Tidewater and a private water system.

“In the past, fire companies have had to bring water into the area in the event of a fire, which has not always been successful,” the report said.

Other streets considered part of the area were Main, McKee, Kent, West and Fulton, and School Lane.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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