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Lack of fire hydrants in Sunrise Beach causing headaches for the fire district

There are some questions about public safety at the Lake of The Ozarks after fires earlier this year leveled a large house and a condo complex.

The blazes happened just 30 days apart and got ABC 17 News looking at why the damage was so severe.

ABC 17’s Ashley Strohmier found out fighting fires was a struggle for the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District.

Chief Dennis Reilly in Sunrise Beach said they have the typical struggles of a small department, notably manpower.

They also lack an essential ingredient to fighting fires- a way to reliably get water and that may not change for a while.

Video was sent in by a viewer and shows a 15,000 square foot mansion on Shawnee Bend Road in Sunrise beach burning to the ground in February.

Less than one month later a second fire caused another total loss at a condo fire at Lone Oaks Resort.

A common thread for both fires was a lack of nearby fire hydrants in each location. Chief Dennis Reilly has been the fire chief for almost five years in Sunrise Beach and agrees the lack of fire hydrants hurts the department’s ability to put fires out.

“So, all of these issues really start factoring in and making this an extremely complicated thing for us to have to deal with and quite honestly you have to stand out there while this building is burning to the ground and trying to make all of these decisions in split seconds at three o’clock in the morning and if something doesn’t work you have to try something else,” said Reilly.

Many times the lack of hydrants means trying multiple strategies to put out the fires and it’s not as simple as asking, “Why can’t they use water from the lake?”

Because of the restrictions of the pump trucks they could not draw water from the shoreline to the house fire on Shawnee Bend Road that was merely steps away.

This brings us right back to the main issue, the lack of fire hydrants at Sunrise Beach and around the lake.

ABC 17’s Ashley Strohmier drove the mile and a half stretch near the house fire and didn’t find one fire hydrant nearby.

In Sunrise Beach there are fewer than one hundred and fifty fire hydrants. A map of the district clearly shows the hydrants are all condensed to one area and none of them are in the areas of the two massive fires earlier this year.

The lack of fire hydrants and small staff makes things that much more difficult.

It takes them an average of eight and a half minutes to get to a fire when it should be about four minutes.

Reilly said once they get there the fire could burn for another five minutes, ultimately meaning more damage.

“Five minutes is a long time. if you look at the volume and how it grows in five minutes is a huge number. The only way we can attack that number is to increase our staff, to add more staff units and get to the fires quicker,” said Reilly.

He also said a new fire hydrant cost around thirty-five hundred dollars, installed.

Reilly also thinks another good strategy would be hiring three to four new firefighters and adding a third fire station.

“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind as we increase our footprint and we are able to get units to the emergency’s faster the amount of fire loss will be reduced,” said Reilly.

He said they have applied for a federal grant that would help them staff a new fire station on Route MM, which is near the toll bridge.

It’s also better for homeowners.

Mike Heitman, an insurance agent at the Lake of the Ozarks, lives in Sunrise Beach and said the lake’s seasonal nature can make it dangerous.

He also agrees money can be a roadblock for protection.

“The district’s, especially the area where I live, fire hydrants are being put in more and more all the time, which is great. They are doing the very best that they can with the revenues. I know they are very interested in the safety of the people and the property,” said Heitman.

Reilly said all of the hydrants in Sunrise Beach are fully functional.

“Quite honestly, once you buy a fire hydrant and install it… As long as you maintain it that thing is going to last forever. There’s hydrants in the city that are at least 99 years old,” said Reilly.

It also comes down to being able to afford them. At thirty-five hundred dollars, it would cost more than half-a-million dollars to install enough fire hydrants to adequately cover all of the Sunrise Beach area. That makes staffing a new station at one hundred and forty thousand dollars look like a better deal.

Sunrise beach firefighters will have to make it another summer with the status quo. They won’t know whether they’re getting their grant until mid-October

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