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Emergency 101 – Fire Hydrants

These devices save lives and livelihoods - here's how!


by Benton Best - September 11, 2019

Structure fires require A LOT of water in order to extinguish. The larger the building, the more water is needed to put the fire out. Starting in 1801, fire departments began accessing the community drinking water systems using fire hydrants. We see fire hydrants quite frequently on the side of the road but how do they work and how are they used? That’s what we’d like to talk about today.

When the Arnot Building Supply caught fire in Mansfield, Pennsylvania in 2007, fire departments used several hundred thousand gallons of water from the local supply of fire hydrants. This supply was only possible through pre-established fire hydrants.

Permanently fixed above ground, fire hydrants are connected to a local water supply, usually through a public water authority or another organization responsible for the local supply of drinking water.

When a fire department needs more water for a fire, they simply pull up to a hydrant, connect a large diameter hose to the large fitting, and then use a special wrench to slowly turn the nut on the hydrant. This opens a valve which redirects water out of the pressurized system, and into the hose.

Depending on the system in place, fire hydrants can release water at a rate of up to 1,500 gallons per minute. The water flows through the large diameter hose which is connected to a fire engine. The fire engine’s pump then re-pressurizes the water and sends it through smaller attack hose to the responders fighting the fire.

This is a critical operation to ensuring that firefighters can safely extinguish the fire, but also can provide them with enough water to fight fire and perform critical rescues.

It’s for this reason that you should never park in front of a fire hydrant. Blocking a hydrant could cost firefighters and people trapped in a fire, their lives.

Also, it’s important to never open a fire hydrant without the permission of the water authority or the fire department. This could drop the pressure for other hydrants nearby and cause firefighters to lose water when fighting a fire. Finally, never put anything into a fire hydrant such as soda cans or other debris. This can also block water from getting through and cost people their lives.

Not all communities have fire hydrants, but those who do, must regularly maintenance them in order to keep them in good working order.

By “flushing” a fire hydrant, water authorities are able to ensure that residue and other contaminants don’t build up and create a blockage within the device. Although this may drop the water pressure of homes in the nearby area, it is extremely important to ensure that the fire hydrants work properly.

Keep this in mind the next time you see a drop in water pressure or slight change in color of your water when the water authority is flushing nearby hydrants. If it was your home on fire, would you want the fire hydrants to work?

More rural areas, such as those outside of a borough, often don’t have municipal water supplies. That’s why many fire departments have pre-established “Dry Hydrants” at various ponds, lakes, and rivers.

A dry hydrant is a large diameter pipe which is pre-connected to a static water source. By attaching a hard suction hose to the pipe, the fire engine can pull water, or draft, from that water source.

Unlike municipal fire hydrants, dry hydrants don’t have to be physically next to the site of the fire. Instead, the fire engine will wait there at the dry hydrant to fill up a line of water tankers. Those water tankers will then shuttle the water back to the fire scene and supply water from the tanker to the firefighters.

If you have a large water source nearby and are interested in establishing it as a Dry Hydrant, contact your local fire company. This could be the water source that provides water for a fire on your property.

Next time you’re going past a fire hydrant, keep in mind that these devices could be a lifesaver and should be treated with care. They are not a toy and, although maintenance may be an inconvenience from time-to-time, we want them to work properly during an emergency.


Videography: Ethan Chabala

Video Editing: Ethan Chabala

Writing: Benton Best


Produced by Vogt Media

Funded by First Citizens Community Bank, C&N

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