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Firefighting, Part II: Why firefighters “waste time fooling with” fire hydrants

fire hydrants Fire hydrants may look indestructible, but they require routine checking and maintenance.


Let me set the scenario for you.  It is 2am in the middle of the night. You awake to the sound of an alarm ringing in a distance.You realize it’s the smoke detector in the other end of your home, by the children’s bedroom.  Your eyes are burning by now, you look down the hall and can’t see the other end.  “What is going on?”you ask yourself.  You grab your cell phone, along with your wife/husband, not knowing how you will reach the rest of your family.  You exit through a window in your bedroom, call 911, and you try to get to the rest of your family still inside, but you can’t.

You hear the sirens of the fire trucks coming. Is this real? Am I dreaming? Is this just a nightmare?“WHAT AM I GOING TO DO!!!?” the panic sets in. The fire department arrives, you inform them that your family is still inside the burning home.  While some of the firefighters are preparing to enter the smoky, burning house that you call home, your safe place, your sanctuary, the other firefighters are preparing the trucks, hoses, and equipment for battle.  Two firefighters are hooking a supply line up to the fire hydrant for more water, they all realize it is going to be a fight for life-your families’ and their own.  All the fire hoses are hooked up, the attack line ready, along with the water supply line from the hydrant.The fire truck operator yells on the radio, “CHARGE IT!!”(meaning turn the water on).  The firefighters at the  fire hydrant try their best to turn the hydrant on, but it is stuck, they push, they pull, they pry, finally they get it turned on, but it does not work, the hydrant is broken and no water comes out……..

fire hydrants

Adding enough water to the “fire reaction” is the way to stop most fires.

This story could go on and on, but hopefully we get the picture.  This is a nightmare that has played out in some of our lives through the years, not just here, but all over the world.  To tame the fire we call “the dragon” we have to break up the chemical chain reaction, and water is one main part of it. So now you know why we do annual fire hydrants’ maintenance.

Would anyone like to take a quick guess how many fire hydrants we have in our city?  100? 200? 300? Would you believe almost 700 hydrants?  Yes, almost 700 of the bright red monsters that cause our water to get all stirred up when they are opened.  Each spring, you will see each crew on the department out removing caps, oiling the stems, the threads, and making sure nothing is in the openings (such as shoes, dolls, toys, rocks–you name it, we have seen it). We trim the weeds, put out poison, kill fire ants, and replace the blue reflectors in the streets that identify where one of the almost 700 are in our city.  This year, we started something new, we put GPS coordinates on fire hydrant, we finally hit the digital age in our records keeping.  Doesn’t really mean that much to the average citizen, unless you become that one person who needs that hydrant in your time of the fight for your life with the “mad dragon”.

fire hydrants' repair

NAFD and NALGW cooperate to keep fire hydrants operable.

So, on a typical spring day, the firefighter gets to work at 6am, checks the trucks, checks their gear, and proceeds to the streets to do annual maintenance.  They put on their lime green vest  (so maybe that one person on their cell phone will see them, and not run them over), they get all their hydrant maintenance supplies, they get in the truck (because, if we have a call while this is going on, we have to be ready to respond on a second’s notice. No time to waste to go back to station to get the truck) and we proceed to complete the daunting task of checking the almost 700 fire hydrants. If we find a problem, and we always do, we write up a yellow maintenance card, and turn it in to the water department for them to correct or repair.  We then get the card back, and we now know that hydrant is ready for use.  We call it preventive maintenance, kind of like what you do around your home to keep everything in working order. This is not the end of the day for our firefighters, after this, they do their daily training, physical workouts, and answer any emergency calls, routine calls, public relations, or anything that our citizens request from us (well….within reason that is…LOL!).

Most citizens are not aware of the importance of hydrants for new business and industry.  When a new business or industry is looking at our city, they often call us and ask questions about our insurance rating, our fire hydrants, and water flow capabilities.  The State ratings bureau, which sets our rating, comes and checks us, they want to see our hydrant maintenance records, and they will check random hydrants for flow amounts and pressures, all this is factored into what you and I pay for insurance in our city.  All of this done, including flushing the hydrant, is a very necessary chore, and must be completed for the safety of each and every person that lives, visits, or just passes through our great city.

So, now we know why it is very important to do hydrant maintenance annually.  I encourage each and every citizen to contact us if we can be of any service to you.  If there are any questions you have, not sure why we do what we do, or just want to stop by and look at your fire department, contact us here at fire station 1 on Cleveland Street, or call 662-534-1000.

Firefighting, Part I: It’s all about numbers

Mark Whiteside

New Albany Fire/Rescue

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