2 lawsuits filed against North Fayette Water Authority, Dunbar Township over faulty fire hydrants
DUNBAR TOWNSHIP, Pa. (KDKA — Last February, KDKA Investigates revealed issues with fire hydrants in Dunbar Township, where it was determined low water pressure was to blame for the hydrants failing to produce water.
A local family said the problem caused them to lose everything they owned in a fire. Now more than a year later, another local man said the same issue caused his family to lose their home as well. As a result, two lawsuits have been filed against the North Fayette Water Authority and Dunbar Township.
The first fire happened in March 2021 on Boyd Street. The owner of the home, Bucky Lattanzo, said he and his wife watched as firefighters rushed to the scene and tried using the fire hydrants nearby.
"When they came, they hooked the hose to the fire hydrant. It didn't work. Thirty yards away from my house," Lattanzo said. "I had water for about a minute and then nothing."
In January 2022, four miles down the road, Gail and Joseph Layman said their home caught on fire.
"We had four dogs and six cats. We got the three dogs out. We lost the other dog and all the cats," Gail Layman said.
KDKA Investigates asked the Monarch Fire Department about the fire at the Layman's days after it happened. The fire chief told KDKA-TV the fire hydrants had no water.
The North Fayette Water Authority, which is in charge of maintaining the hydrants, later admitted to KDKA-TV that there's low water pressure in Monarch due to the area's high elevation.
"With no water in it, what good is a hydrant? You have no water pressure," Joseph Layman said.
Both homes were a total loss.
"It's hard for me. It's definitely much harder for him. He's lived here for 40-50 years. He raised his daughter here. I want to ball (cry) every time we come here," Gail Layman said.
More than a year ago, Fayette County Commissioner Scott Dunn told KDKA a booster system would improve the water pressure in the area.
At that time, Dunn said, "We're at the beginning phase of exploring all the options. Public safety is a priority as a Fayette County commissioner. That's part of my job to make sure we have public safety in place. We're taking a look at it. If it's a matter of money, we will go out and try to make it happen."
Lattanzo said his wife was sent to the hospital the night of the fire.
"My wife got real sick. I had to call an ambulance for her. She was probably having a nervous breakdown. Her blood pressure was sky high," Lattanzo said.
Eight months after the fire, Bucky said his wife passed away unexpectedly.
"Bucky's wife died because of this. She was never the same after that night when she was taken to the hospital from this scene. And I say this to the commissioners of this county: Her blood is on your hands. Where are you?" said Joel Sansone, the attorney representing the Laymans and Lattanzo.
In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs blame the North Fayette Water Authority and Dunbar Township for failing to provide water or take any action to provide adequate water pressure to the fire hydrants.
"Mr. Dunn promised action months ago. How many people's lives have to be put at risk? How many firefighters have to risk their lives? How many people have to die? How many dogs and cats have to die? What are you people doing?" Sansone said.
KDKA-TV reached back out to Dunn multiple times to find out if a booster system has been installed, like he suggested last year, or if anything else has been done to improve the water pressure. We have not heard back from him.
KDKA-TV also reached out to the North Fayette Water Authority, which said it has no comment on pending litigation.
Dunbar Township sent KDKA-TV this statement in response to our request for comment:
"We are able to confirm that there are two previously filed lawsuits pending. However, the Township denies the allegations made in both suits. We, the Township and the vast majority of its residents, stand behind our brave volunteer fire companies and are proud of the vital, constant service they provide to us all. Our fire companies are continuously faced with unique situations in fighting fires and responding to emergencies, including fires in portions of the Township without public water infrastructure. These kinds of lawsuits only create a burden and expense onto the Township, the fire companies, and most importantly the Township's taxpayers and residents."
So far, the water authority and township have filed a motion to dismiss Layman's lawsuit. Sansone said his office is pushing for a jury trial in both cases.
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