The City of Austin announced plans to enforce private fire hydrant maintenance requirements in Austin. Fire hydrants are a little-considered safety measure, most folks think nothing about until you need it.
Color Coordinated Fire Hydrant Maintenance
If you do notice them, you’ve probably seen a myriad of dressings or color codes applied; red, silver, black, polka-dotted… They run the gambit on paint jobs here in Austin. However, there is a reason for the apparent madness. Firs,t let’s identify the two major types of hydrants found in the city limits. The primary type, are the city’s 25,000 publicly maintained hydrants usually located around public venues or property, identified by a simple coat of silver paint. The other type, are privately owned hydrants, in which case can be painted an assortment of colors defined by the local authority or applicable Home Owners Associations.
Commercial Buildings Seeing Red
Most commercial properties in Austin will have hydrants painted in red which are preferred by the City of Austin, however, depending on the setting they can be painted various other colors and patterns too. This depends on the authority presiding over the hydrant, or simply someone making an artistic statement for their front of yard hydrant. Over the years hydrant ownership has been clouded to some degree and therefore these color codes are not always 100% accurate. This is why it’s best to have a professional fire hydrant specialist correctly classify you’rethe hydrant and to determine the proper steps have been taken to ensure its operation.
Fire Hydrant Maintenance Equals Safety
At over 200 lbs of solid steel, fire hydrants are built to withstand enormous abuse, in the form of immense volumes of water and higher pressures, environmental decay, vehicular damage, and normal use. The normal water line pressure in the average home is reduced at the meter in most cases and can produce between 40 & 65 psi, this is sufficient enough to supply the standard fixtures in a home. So due to the high-pressure, high danger nature and sheer importance in the case of a fire, you want to make sure fire hydrant maintenance is occurring on a routine basis.
However, the pressure and the piping of the water department’s mains are generally higher and are designed to produce greater volumes of water to supply these hydrants. The large volumes of water and increased pressures from water department mains can cause tremendous amounts of force which may cause considerable damage to people and or property if not handled correctly. In some cases, forces have been strong enough to damage and move parked vehicles from their spot. This can happen easily if the proper precautions aren’t taken. Even with their stout designs and capacity for water pressures in the hundreds of pound per square inch, a small leak can surprisingly render the hydrant useless when needed in an emergency.
Most Austin area hydrants in use are “dry” hydrants meaning no water is housed in the visible (above ground) portion of the hydrant. The valves and release mechanisms are housed deep inside of the below-ground portion of the assembly, helping protect against freezing temperatures or damage from external sources. Once the hydrant is in the closed position after use, the excess water in the upper hydrant housing is released back into the ground at the base of the hydrant. By this process, it removes the possibility of the hydrant freezing and or breaking due to extreme temperatures.
While this design is in some ways superior to other models of fire hydrants, it is not without its own unique set of potential problems. The design’s strength can also be its weakness, due to the main valve being positioned very deep inside of the underground portion of the hydrant. This protects the valve but at the same time makes it more difficult to service.
Additionally, this design lends itself to rapid deterioration if neglected for too long. The damp and protected spaces where the valves are positioned are prime conditions for oxidation and corrosion (rusting) to occur, which can significantly compromise the integrity or operation of the hydrant when use is attempted.
The part of the hydrant most at risk of failure at any given point is the large rubber gasket found in the base of the hydrant. This rubber gasket is the hydrant’s primary bulwark against this immense pressure residing in the water mains. It must resist constant pressure, in both operating and stationary settings, and is subject to debris, and other persistent tortures via the water supply, all of which can render the hydrant suddenly useless. Debris, for example, can become embedded in the rubber gasket, preventing the valve from closing completely. See the image below. A well-maintained hydrant can be expected to last in the upwards of 30 years or more, however, this is not without routine maintenance and repairs as needed. A failed or leaking hydrant, on the other hand, will typically only operate for the first 1 to 2 years maximum before 100% failure, which usually can occur upon the first use attempt. Both the City of Austin & NFPA regulations require annual testing of all fire hydrants public and private.
Responsibility and Confusion
The Austin water department is responsible for inspecting the city’s 25,000 public hydrants, while property owners are responsible for annual testing and maintaining any private hydrants located on their property. The City of Austin recently announced and rolled out a program designed to ensure private fire hydrant maintenance is conducted on a routine basis. The Austin water department has always required the annual testing of Private Fire Hydrants, but until recently lacked the capability to track them. Now they are able to begin tracking private hydrants enough to begin the mailing notices to owners, and plan enforcement going forward, beginning in 2015.
Earning Your Trust, and Preventing Rust
Not just anybody can private fire hydrant maintenance. The Water Department requires extensive training and licensing to any individual before they are considered authorized to perform Private fire hydrant Inspections for the Austin Water Department, and the inspector must have specialized measuring devices to conduct the inspection. But fear not, luckily Fox has several specialists trained and licensed to perform fire hydrant maintenance inspections. However the average turnaround for a private fire hydrant maintenance inspection can be as much as 30 days from the original date of the request, due to the coordination with city officials that is required, so time is of the essence. Fox Plumbers have been in the field and performing installation and repair of underground water supply systems since 1972. We can perform the analysis of your systems accurately and we stand by our work. We go out of our way to ensure that you, the customer, receive the top performance and satisfaction by meeting your needs and making sure that full operations are restored as quickly as possible, minimizing disruption in the workplace. Finally, we stand by our work 100% guaranteed!
Fox hydrant specialists are trained and know annual inspections can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour per hydrant, depending on the quantity on site. In case you’re curious, here are the basic points of a private fire hydrant maintenance inspection:
- (Identify) the hydrant’s type, size, and location, its ownership, the number of hydrants on the property, the location of hydrant’s source of the water line to the property
- (Accessibility and Condition) of the hydrant, determine if it has the proper 3ft clearance around the hydrant, the steamer nozzle (Center Nozzle) is at least 18in from grade
- (Pressure Test) the hydrant to determine the integrity of its seals
- (Chlorine) test to determine that the water has enough chlorine to keep the water lines sanitized and clean
- (Flow) determine the amount of water is coming from the hydrant, by finding the gallons-per-minute. This indicates if the hydrant is flowing sufficiently to serve the Pumper Truck (Firetruck) with enough water and allows us to determine how the water mains are performing, making sure they are not restricted by debris, or that all of the valves in the street are fully open.
Closing with Caution
As a property owner, the responsibility to protect your investment and the lives routinely inhabiting it falls directly to you. At best you can look forward to flooded property, however, if for some reason a hydrant fails during an emergency, it could mean losing precious minutes in damage control, if a pump truck has to relocate to another hydrant, due to the repositioning of the truck and redeploying the equipment. This can result in a minor incident turning into a larger emergency, exposing building owners to extensive liabilities, both civil and criminal charges if found negligent. Call the private fire hydrant professionals at Fox Commercial Services to have your hydrants tested today.