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We would be delighted to try and obtain an answer to any questions you might have regarding fire hydrants, whether of a technical or general nature. Below are recent questions and answers from the mailbag. If you have a question, Email Us.
  • The viewpoints expressed in this forum on these pages are those of the participants.
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  • #55 - What basic criteria are typically applied in the design of the safety features of "collision-type" or "traffic-model" fire hydrants?

    There are no universally accepted guidelines. It is not agreed upon even what the intention of the breaking feature is. My opinion is that the breaking feature serves (3) purposes, I list them in the order that I consider to be their importance.

    1. The hydrant must not present a hazard to life if struck by a vehicle - I take that to mean that a small (say 2500lb) vehicle traveling at a reasonable speed (say 5MPH) should break the hydrant.

    2. When impacted the hydrant should shut so as not to interrupt the water supply

    3. The components broken should be replaceable without excavation or shutting down the public supply - preferable only the easily replaced, less expensive, frangible components

    I do not consider it acceptable to compromise a more important feature to enhance a less important one


    Louis Carl, Chief Engineer, Kennedy Valve

    #56 - Please I want to know what is the relation between the fire hydrant nozzle size, the required flow and the head in the main line.

    The greater the head and the larger the nozzle opening, the greater the flow on an exponential basis. This, of course, assumes that the head will remain fairly constant once water is flowing. On smaller mains the residual head can drop below usefulness.

    In addition if I have a building of 2 or 3 stories and a head of 20m in the main line can I use a hose direct connection to the fire hydrant without a fire pumper to extinguish the fire.

    The performance would be inadequate. While you could conceivably get the required flow from the hydrant you will not get it through the fire hose without boosting the pressure by a factor of about four times (or more) your stated head pressure.

    I hope this information is helpful.

    Willis Lamm, Water Supply Officer
    Moraga-Orinda (CA) Fire District

    #57 - If a hydrant develops a rust hole in the side of the barrel (see photos), is welding an acceptable option for repair? What damage may occur from lack of caps? (see photos) Is an ISO rating affected by lack of maintenance of hydrants? Do you think a city would be liable for maintenance of hydrants connected to the city water lines, but outside the city limits? Could a city sidestep liability by considering hydrants outside city limits as "flush valves"?
    --- Newspaper Staff Writer

    > If a hydrant develops a rust hole in the side of the barrel (see photo),
    > is welding an acceptable option for repair?

    It depends on the material used to cast the hydrant body. In cases of conventional cast iron, I'm not aware of any field welding process that meets any published standards. Furthermore a rust hole is indicative of general deterioration of the hydrant body. The proper method for salvaging an old hydrant body is to remove the body, sandblast the interior to white metal, then apply an epoxy coating. This solves the pinhole problem and if done properly will significantly extend the life of the hydrant.

    > What damage may occur from lack of caps? (see photo)

    The brass outlet threads can be damaged which could render the hydrant useless. Debris can be (and often is) deposited into hydrants by curious children that can plug pump intakes of motor fire apparatus. Critical fireground operations can be hampered while an engine crew has to cap off unneeded outlets before charging a hose line from the hydrant. Other undesirable contaminants can be introduced from illegally dumped used motor oil to wasps building nests in hydrants.

    > Is an ISO rating affected by lack of maintenance of hydrants?

    Yes. 40% of a community's ISO rating is based on water supply. Particularly with dry barrel hydrants (the type of hydrants in and around your area), documented annual maintenance is a significant issue.

    > Do you think a city would be liable for maintenance of hydrants
    > connected to the city water lines, but outside the city limits?

    This depends on the contract or franchise agreement with the county or special district which allows for water service to be provided outside the city limits. In many cases a water agency will specify that the fire department or a community services district will be responsible for fire hydrants and related equipment. The water agency's responsibility ends at the hydrant lateral valve in the street. Some other agencies levy a small service fee on the water bills for "foreign" customers to pay for maintenance of fire hydrants.

    This argument sometimes boils down to a gift of public funds. If a city uses general tax revenues to maintain fire hydrants and those taxes are not levied outside the city limits, it may be illegal in some cases for money collected from city residents to be spent to benefit non-taxpaying rural residents unless there is some ancillary benefit to the city taxpayers (e.g., protection of city owned properties that are located outside the city limits proper.) This is often the reason that some financial burden is often shifted to people outside the city limits either in the form of a water bill surcharge (roughly equal to city residents' contributions for the same service) or by designating that another agency is responsible for either performing or paying for maintenance and repairs.

    On the other hand if the water agency pays for hydrant maintenance and repair out of water rates and those same rates are being paid by water users outside the city, then the people outside the city have a reasonable equal protection argument which, depending on state laws and local agreements, may be more of a fairness argument than a legal one.

    Most states have pretty strong immunity laws that protect municipalities. In most areas someone who loses a house because of a faulty hydrant isn't going to have much of a claim against a municipality for lack of maintenance unless he can prove willful and gross negligence. Your situation certainly seems to involve neglect, but the burden will be very high for a plaintiff to prove that the city had an obligation to maintain the hydrants, had the money and resources to do so, set a grossly unequal standard between how hydrants within and outside the city were maintained, and had reasonable foreknowledge that the result of its policies would be excessive and unreasonable public risk. If the city isn't collecting money for hydrant maintenance they could probably shield themselves with the argument that to do more than minimal maintenance would constitute a gift of public funds.

    Again, if the revenue structure is equal within and outside of the city then the obligation argument starts to take shape and a remedy could be pursued civilly. A legal argument could be raised that the City has a franchise monopoly for providing water and as such has an obligation to maintain fire hydrants in the interest of public safety. One basis for this argument is the prevailing standard in the region wherein that water agencies also provide appropriately designed and maintained fire service connections (fire hydrants.)

    > Could a city sidestep liability by considering hydrants outside city
    > limits as "flush valves"?

    If it looks like a duck, flies like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

    To say that the purpose of the same type of fire hydrant changes from one side of the city limit line to another is an indefensible argument. There are national specifications for fire hydrants and national specifications for flush valves. The police won't write you a ticket for being parked in front of a flush valve. Leave your car conspicuously parked in front of one of these hydrants then have someone tip off the local police and see if you don't get a ticket on your windshield. A reasonable person, like the police officer, would conclude that these in fact are fire hydrants.

    It appears to me that the fundamental issue here is years of neglect and who pays to repair and maintain the hydrants. Here are my suggestions.

    1. The fire department and County Commission need to take a non confrontational but very proactive position and two issues need to be immediately researched. First the legal obligation of the city has to be ascertained. Secondly all the hydrants need to be thoroughly inspected by the fire department and an assessment made as to how significant the problem is.

    2. A plan needs to be developed to properly repair or replace the deficient hydrants. Used and rebuilt hydrant bodies can often be procured if cost is an issue. Practical options need to be explored and the costs for each estimated.

    3. If the city is found to be responsible they need their feet held to the fire until they fulfill their obligations. If there is a funding or responsibility gap, community leaders need to explore funding options which could include applying for a grant to overhaul the hydrant network, surcharging water customers who benefit from these hydrants, adding a fire hydrant maintenance fee to fire taxes, or creating a community services district to maintain the fire hydrants.

    4. The fire department needs to engage in an aggressive annual inspection, testing and maintenance program to prevent further deterioration and failures as well as to preserve any improvements that may be made. (Most fire departments limit their involvement to "non mechanical" repairs which include annual flushing, lubrication, maintaining paint and clearance, repairing cap chains and chain anchors and replacing missing caps.)

    5. If the city is not required to fund and make hydrant repairs and some form of external funding mechanism is established, the involved agencies need to determine if the city water agency will be contracted to make repairs or if the county, fire department or community services district will perform the work.

    6. The County Commission should pass an ordinance recognizing minimum standards as established by the various fire departments that serve unincorporated areas and requiring that whenever new building construction takes place, all hydrants that benefit the new construction shall be brought up to those established standards through installation of additional hydrants, retrofitting of existing hydrants or both. (NFPA standards and the Uniform Fire Code discuss how to calculate how many hydrants are required for various types of buildings, where they can be located, allowable distances, etc.)

    (For the record, I live in small a rural community outside the city limits and we've been through this very same issue. We got new hydrants through a community block grant, the fire department maintains them and the town water agency is responsible only for providing water and maintaining the water mains. It has turned out to be a workable partnership.)

    I hope this information is useful to you.

    Willis Lamm, Water Supply Officer
    Moraga-Orinda (CA) Fire District

    #58 - Hello, I am with the Bureau of Reclamation in Phoenix, Arizona...we are installing a fire hydrant in a remote area for protection of a new farm maintenance building...our problem is this: the water for the hydrant is unfiltered...the water comes from an open concrete lined canal, then is delivered through a 42-inch diameter pipe, then to the 6-inch diameter hydrant supply line... we are concerned that since this water is unfiltered, debris such as moss, rock, twigs, dead mice, etc. could possible make its way into the hydrant and fire there some sort of filter device that can be attached to the outlet nozzle of the hydrant to prevent debris from entering the fire hose and possibly plugging the hose nozzle? We are aware of in-line "Y" strainers that could be installed upstream of the hydrant, but that requires bringing the supply line above grade for operation/maintenance of the strainer, then routing the supply line back under ground to the hydrant. Any suggestions you have are appreciated.

    This is an interesting situation. In most cases such non potable sources are supplied by draft plugs and the strainer is an integral part of the last few feet of the suction apparatus.

    I could think of a few options in your situation. The first involves the hydrant itself. You could use a wet barrel hydrant which would permit you to set the strainer below the grade flange. You would have to unbolt the hydrant to clean out the strainer however my estimate is that this would only have to occur every few years.

    A variant of this would be to procure a wye strainer that's heavy enough so that it could be part of the hydrant riser and actually attach the hydrant to the strainer casting. James Jones makes some brass hydrants that are light and small enough so that this would be feasible.

    On the discharge side a strainer outlet could be fabricated using a short piece of 4" or 5" pipe with some strainer plates tacked into it. A couple of handles could be welded to each side so that it could be removed for back flushing. It could remain on the hydrant pumper outlet with the hydrant cap affixed to the end of the strainer. If fabricating hose fittings onto the pipe section was a problem you might even be able to tack or epoxy the strainer plates into an iron 4" or 5" coupling section with IPT to NH adapters threaded in to each end.

    Also, your final line of defense involves the strainers on fire engine intakes. While they can become fairly easily plugged, they will protect pumps from debris damage. In our "alternative" systems we pretty much rely on those strainers as we have no practical way of inspecting the system intake strainers.

    I'll ask around and see if anyone has heard of something already in the marketplace that fits this need.

    KEY POINT! Current OSHA standards require pressurized non potable water devices to be painted OSHA purple. This makes for a fairly ugly hydrant (as seen below) however nobody in his/her right mind should inadvertently hook up and fill a tank that is also intended to carry potable water!

    Willis Lamm, Water Supply Officer
    Moraga-Orinda (CA) F.D. Follow up

    Clow and Jones both have fairly light weight and low profile hydrant bodies in their product lines. Perhaps one of these won't be too cumbersome.

    ":O) Willis

    Mr. Lamm, Thank you for your speedy reply...and all of your suggestions...I especially like the idea of installing a wye strainer on the hydrant riser then attaching the hydrant above the strainer...I'm assuming that the strainer would be bolted to the break-away flange...I know the hydrant outlet nozzle must be a minimum of 16" above grade, so by installing the wye strainer below the hydrant we'll be at least another 12" higher...thanks again for your help...and we will paint the darn thing purple!

    #59 - In the photos (See showing the hydrant hook-up, you state that the hydrant should be even with the back axle, what would the length of your short suction or feed line have to be or should be? Thank you

    - Training Officer

    For this particular engine the rear axle spotting facilitated a connection from an EBMUD "Model 64" hydrant and the side suction port through 12ft. of soft suction hose. Please note that the Model 64 hydrant outlets face at 45 degree angles to the road to facilitate a nice, kink free bend in the hose. I should point out that we don't have any angle-in parking near any low pressure hydrants so we can get fairly close in order to make our spot.

    Willis Lamm, Water Supply Officer
    Moraga-Orinda FD

    #60 - we live on a small farm. there is a vender thats sells produce across from us that uses the hydrant 24 /7 and waters fields cars parked in front and they have a metter that is open and closed 2 or 3 times a day, there is only one hydrant avalibe for my home bis and farm. can you send me info on laws on abuse of hydrant

    The Uniform Fire Code and the EPA have specific regulations pertaining to the use and abuse of fire hydrants. Connecticut should also have a traffic law pertaining to parking in front of fire hydrants.

    It is possible that the vendor has a permit to use the hydrant. This permit would have to be approved by the water company as well as the Fire Chief. So long as the water company AND the Fire Chief approve the use of the hydrant, it is legal. So long as the vendor is following the rules imposed by these agencies it is legal. However in no case can the vendor obstruct immediate identification and access to this fire hydrant. Also if he is using the water for irrigation and this hydrant is on a water main that protects domestic customers, he and the water company may be in violation of the latest EPA rules unless there is back flow protection provided to prevent contamination of the public water supply.

    Here's what I would do.

    1. I would quietly take several photographs showing vehicles obstructing the fire hydrant and the connections that this vendor has made to the hydrant.

    2. I would compose a formal letter and send it to the following people:

    Fire Chief
    Director of the Water Company
    District Attorney
    Agency in charge of enforcing traffic laws (PD, Sheriff or State Police)
    Director of the County Health Department
    Your County Commission (or City Council if you are inside a city)

    This letter needs to be professionally written using correct spelling and grammar.

    I would point out the following concerns:

    There is only one fire hydrant protecting your property and surrounding properties including a public business. The Uniform Fire Code and state laws prevent this hydrant from being obstructed or utilized by private parties in any way that would render the hydrant less serviceable in an emergency.

    The vendor (indicate his name and address) is regularly connecting to this hydrant for private uses in lieu of a permanent and appropriate connection to the water system.

    The hydrant is frequently and illegally obstructed by vehicles owned by the vendor's customers and he appears to have done nothing to maintain clear access as required by law.

    You are not aware of any back flow prevention devices being used and the regular and recurrent connections to the fire hydrant for agricultural use may be in violation of EPA regulations that protect public water supplies from contaminated back flow.

    Ask for the appropriate agencies to investigate this matter, for health and safety laws to be enforced as appropriate, and for the police to enforce state laws with respect to parking in front of and/or obstructing fire hydrants.

    Be sure to put dates and descriptions on the back of all photos and send one set of photos with each letter.

    Once these letters are received they are official public correspondence. In most states the appropriate agencies are required by law to investigate.

    This will require a little work on your part but it is usually what is necessary to get formal corrective action taken.

    Good luck!

    ":O) Willis Lamm, Water Supply Officer
    Moraga-Orinda (CA) F.D.

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