Fire hydrant ownership varies and is case by case. While modern governing authorities working in cooperation with utility companies require the presence of these locations, ownership of these hydrants is split between individual property owners, municipalities, counties, and a variety of different utility companies. The presence of these hydrants is a need, not a want, as municipal and/or county fire codes require the presence of hydrants to benefit commercial and residential properties. Fire hydrants save lives. In a time where debates are rampant as to which businesses are essential and which are not, there is little debate as to the essential need to continue fire hydrant maintenance, upkeep, and installation. With close to 9 Million hydrants in the United States alone, that is a lot of care, and our team is here to help.
Maintenance upkeep for hydrants is constant as many municipal or county codes officers require inspections annually. Hydrants also have warranty periods ranging from one to five to ten years, although the longer warranties do not remove the need for routine periodic maintenance. Public hydrants or those required by the public are inspected by municipal authorities. These same authorities often oversee private hydrants but sometimes do not, depending on the location. In addition, there are other overseeing groups many people do not think of, including local residents who make their elected officials aware of the state of the hydrants, as well as insurance companies who have specific requirements to keep in line with underwritten policies, etc. for the property. Other groups people often do not think of include commercial property tenants, whose right to occupy a location may be contingent upon occupancy permits and other items that cannot be active if appropriate fire safety is not in play. A down fire hydrant gives us all a lot to lose, and fire damage is only one of many items of exposure.
To keep these locations maintained, a variety of items are reviewed. Most believe the maintenance item starts and stops with the cosmetic exterior visible hydrant. However, maintenance goes far beyond that. Fire hydrants are reliant on the visible property surrounding the hydrant, subsurface property, and most importantly, the utility infrastructure below the surface, which provides the pipes and water supplying the hydrant. Usually, this subsurface infrastructure is publicly owned by a county, township, and/or utility companies, but here and there you see private ownership. In the case of any hydrant, a maintenance technician frequently has requirements to keep their hydrant location up to standard for a variety of groups, as we stated here. Not keeping a hydrant up to standard has a variety of penalty driven effects.
Some hydrant manufacturers recommend more periodic maintenance than even the annual maintenance. These measures include lubricating the head mechanism, restoring head gaskets, restoring o – rings, and other items. Any climate will wear on a hydrant; however, specific climates and times of year will dictate the amount of wear and tear placed on each unit. Being that hydrants serve as key life-saving measures, none of us can afford for preventable maintenance issues such as unclear caps, stripped screws, or other completely avoidable items stop firefighters from saving lives, much less the physical expense elements of a property such as a building, interior personal property, and other items.
In recent years, technology and product in the maintenance industry have seen strong improvement. Items such as lubrication can often now be performed annually (as opposed to more periodic maintenance in prior times) while still maintain effective, long term lubrication performance. Despite these improvements, maintenance measures paired with a constant watching eye on each hydrant location will ensure peak performance. Even the best maintenance measures in the industry cannot stop a foreign object such as a stone or other item from kicking up through a storm, truck, or other sources right into the seat gasket, causing disruption. In a worst-case scenario, you will frequently see hydrants partially or completely knocked off by a car driving off the road or kids fooling around.
With each state having at least a few hundred thousand hydrants, some public service organizations have pitched in to increase community presence in the maintenance and overview of these integral community utility locations. Groups such as “Code for America” have established programs such as the “Adopt a Hydrant” program, which enables volunteers to sign up to assist in maintenance efforts for essential maintenance items, particularly in severe weather events. Essential maintenance items include keeping a three-foot clear radius around each hydrant, which will permit firefighters the area needed to access the hydrant, without having to stop and shovel themselves during the precious rushed moments of a fire call. In particular, these efforts come into play in times or areas of heavy snowfall, which can create substantial issues such as these. Working in tandem with local officials, these volunteers clear thousands of hydrants a year while saving significant time and cost for the local community.
In the current climate of COVID-19, the combined efforts of maintenance companies, and the efforts of local community activists are even more needed. Many volunteers are focused on the pandemic but are now ignoring other vital infrastructure needs such as these. Pandemic precautions have created problems of their own as officials are now required to practice social distancing, mask-wearing, and other procedural requirements, which are time-consuming.