How we do it -
Between 11:00 PM and 6:30 AM Monday and Wednesday nights, three crews of two men each, working along predetermined routes, begin by performing a visual inspection of each hydrant, looking for signs of damage. The nozzle caps are removed, threads lubricated and gaskets are replaced when necessary. The operating mechanism is lubricated and the hydrants are then operated and flushed under full flow to ensure they are able to deliver water in the event of an emergency. After this, the hydrants are shut and checked to be sure all water has drained from the barrel to prevent freeze ups during cold weather. Any vegetation close to the hydrants is trimmed back to keep them accessible and visible. The hydrants are then flagged and the maintenance information is logged.
Any problems with a hydrant are noted and crews return during normal shifts to make the necessary repairs. Approximately 80 hydrants do not drain and need to be pumped out. Again, crews return during normal shifts and pump these hydrants. Approximately two weeks after they are pumped, these hydrants are rechecked to be sure there are no leaks in the hydrant valve allowing them to refill. If the hydrant is still “dry”, it is flagged and checked off the list. If there is a leak and the hydrant is refilling, it is taken out of service, disassembled and the main valve is removed. The valve is brought in to be rebuilt and tested before being reinstalled. The hydrant is then reassembled and returned to service. On average, each crew completes between 25 and 35 hydrants per shift, taking approximately 10 nights (5 weeks) to complete the program. These night shifts are in addition to the regular day shifts making Tuesday and Thursday, 16 hour days.
Why we do it -
Each year, we invest an average 700 man hours maintaining and repairing fire hydrants. These man hours along with thousands of dollars in repair parts are needed to keep these hydrants ready to deliver water for an emergency, whenever it is needed. We believe the importance and benefit of this work was evident in the latest (2003) ISO (Insurance Services Office) review for fire insurance classification for the Town of Salem. The review gave a credit of:
- 2.70 of a possible 3.00 for fire hydrant inspection and condition.
- 1.98 of a possible 2.00 for the type of hydrant and method of installation we require.
- 32.19 of a possible 35.00 was given for “supply works” such as the capacity of mains, hydrant distribution, storage tanks, etc.
- The overall score for water supply was 36.87 of a possible 40.00
This high score helps keeps Salem’s favorable ISO classification and is used by many insurance companies to set fire insurance rates for properties in Salem.
Some of the many problems we face:
- Property owners placing fences or other obstacles too close to hydrants (requirements call for an area of ten feet around the hydrant to be kept clear).
- Property owners planting trees, shrubs and flowers around hydrants.
- Finding a place to safely flow over 1000 gallons per minute.
Traffic. Nearly all motorists approach the area slowly and either wait until we are finished or drive through slowly and safely. Others do not slow down or wait and drive too fast through the water spray and puddles.
- Hydrants damaged by motor vehicle hits and unauthorized use/theft.
- Vandals damaging or removing flags.
What property owners can do to help -
Many property owners place objects or plantings too close to hydrants under the assumption the hydrant is only used in the event of an emergency and that these objects or plantings will not be a problem. They are. We would like to remind residents that hydrants are serviced at least twice per year. After the fall maintenance, hydrants are again inspected in the spring for cold weather or snow plow damage and to have the flag removed. Please keep the area around the hydrant clear of obstructions and plantings that will either hide the hydrant or will be damaged by our working on the hydrant.
It is difficult to keep an eye on all 900 hydrants. We do find hydrants that were bumped by a car and broken or used by someone without authorization and suffered internal damage. In some cases hydrants that do not drain were used without our knowledge and the barrel has been left full of water. In cold weather, this water freezes and leaves the hydrant unable to supply water.
Salem Town Codes prohibit anyone from connecting to or operating a fire hydrant with written authorization from the Water Department. We do not allow anyone other than the Salem Fire Department to use hydrants for any reason. Anyone seeing a hydrant that looks damaged, someone connecting to or operating a hydrant, a bent or missing flag (winter time) or any suspicious activity involving a fire hydrant, is asked to please call the Water Department at 890-2156.