Hidden hydrants hampered firefighting

They may vary in shape and color, but Minot’s many streetside fireplugs serve the same purpose – being there for city firefighters in the event of an emergency.

Last year, the Minot Fire Department responded to 660 calls, of which 123 legitimately involved fire. And though the dry, tindery conditions of summer are long past, the frigid air and snow bring their own dangers.

“Fire calls increase in the wintertime,” said Brian Anderson, an inspector at Fire Station #1. The cold comes accompanied by a proliferation of space heaters and the general migration of smokers indoors, increasing the likelihood of fire. The same conditions also pose another problem, in the form of buried hydrants.

“We’re having an issue. We can’t use some of our hydrants,” the fire inspector explained. “We did have one fire that one of the hydrants was covered up,” he recalled, but fortunately there was another plug about the same distance away that was usable.

There is only enough hose on one of Minot’s firetrucks to reach between two hydrants, roughly 300 feet. If the nearest one is rendered inaccessible and the firefighters have to “jump over” to the next, a second truck and its length of hose will have to be called in to link the line, wasting time and resources.

The problem seems largely to occur in residential areas, especially around apartments and condominiums. However, Anderson has noticed commercial properties have to some extent been burying or otherwise neglecting their hydrants as well.

The more than 2,000 fireplugs located around Minot’s streets are far more than the fire department’s staff of 55 can manage themselves. He explained that city code subsequently requires property owners to keep the hydrants on or near their property free from impediment, which in the winter generally means drifts or piles of snow.

While there are fines on the books for failing to maintain a hydrant, Anderson said the department does not want to pursue that route. Rather, they wish to remind residents and business owners to keep an eye out.

“It’s more of an adopt-a-hydrant sort of deal,” he said. “Help protect your neighborhood.”

Ideally, a plug needs to be completely cleared so firefighters can tie their hose around its stout frame, the truck then driving away to unroll the line. “We need a three-foot clearance” radiating around the hydrant “and a pathway to it,” said Anderson. “As close to the ground as you can get.”

Periodically keeping hydrants clear of snow and ice-free, like when shoveling the drive or sidewalks, should make the task easier. In addition to lending an element of protection to your neighborhood, the accessible network of fireplugs saves money by enabling the department to purchase more practical, smaller-chassised response vehicles that do not have to carry their own full supply of water on board. Anderson estimates these saved costs to Minot number in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“But we need those fire hydrants to work.”

Another thing to keep an eye out for is whether the hydrant nearest you has a wire marker attached to it, similar to an antenna. These help responders better locate their water source as they approach.

“We want every hydrant to have those antennas,” said Anderson. Markerless fireplugs can be called in to the city water department, which will arrange for a technician to swing by and rig one up. Water and Sewer can be reached at 857-4150 during regular weekday hours.