The Smart Business Guide to Fire Safety, Water Security, and Cost-savings – Part 1

(For those who are wondering … how can I, as a public official, water service provider, or design & engineering consultant best service the interests of my constituents, customers, clients and firefighters, I present this article for your consideration.)

Sometimes, a new product comes along – a real game changer – that really makes a difference in the lives of everyone, more or less. Some people see the value right away and others struggle to understand the real benefits. Fire hydrants are no different. Many people really don’t know that much about the history, uses of, and problems with these very visible, very important, and very vulnerable assets. The fire hydrant evolved from a wooden plug in a wooden water pipe (hence the term fire plug, still in use today) to an actual above ground fixture where the fire department could more easily and quickly get water to fight a fire. Today, hundreds of years after the concept emerged from the underground, fire hydrants must continue to evolve as technology changes, city and water company budgets get leaner, and new threats emerge. Fire hydrants in the 21st century must be economical on a life-cycle cost basis, i.e. cost of ownership versus cost of purchase. They must also effectively eliminate threats to public health and safety. For almost 200 hundred years, the American public has been served – and often “victimized” – by problems with current conventional fire hydrant design.  As necessity is the mother of invention, now the next-generation fire hydrant has made its way into the market; a hydrant that solves all the problems where other hydrants have often failed firefighters, municipal water departments and private water companies, city planners and developers, property owners, and taxpayers at large.

The fire hydrant evolved from a wooden plug in a wooden water pipe (hence the term fire plug, still in use today) to an actual above ground fixture where the fire department could more easily and quickly get water to fight a fire. Today, hundreds of years after the concept emerged from the underground, fire hydrants must continue to evolve as technology changes, city and water company budgets get leaner, and new threats emerge. Fire hydrants in the 21st century must be economical on a life-cycle cost basis, i.e. cost of ownership versus cost of purchase. They must also effectively eliminate threats to public health and safety. For almost 200 hundred years, the American public has been served – and often “victimized” – by problems with current conventional fire hydrant design.  As necessity is the mother of invention, now the next-generation fire hydrant has made its way into the market; a hydrant that solves all the problems where other hydrants have often failed firefighters, municipal water departments and private water companies, city planners and developers, property owners, and taxpayers at large.

Fire hydrants are used for a variety of “official” and many “unofficial” reasons. Officially, the water department uses them to flush water mains, engineers use them to perform flow testing to determine capacity to support new developments, and – of course – firefighters use them to save lives and property. Contractors are also issued permits to use water from hydrants on construction sites or as fill points for water trucks. Unofficially, people use them for street side “water parks” in hot weather, or to fill swimming pools, wash cars, water lawns, hose down construction equipment and parking lots, fill water tanks, or just open them because … well, it’s kinda cool to watch the water blast out of them (which is very dangerous! As in, don’t try this “at home” folks!)

The point is, fire hydrants are put to good uses and are also often subject to many abuses, much of which contributes to higher costs of ownership and non-revenue water loss (theft and leakage) that is not billed and therefore not paid for (well, except by water customers in increased rates). Other problems include hydrants being out of service when needed, e.g. repairs needed, obstructed by ice or other debris in barrel, missing nozzle caps and damaged nozzle threads prohibiting hose connections, or the operating nut breaks due to excessive corrosion. These are nightmare scenarios for firefighters and for those who need assistance. In the time it takes for firefighters to find a working hydrant, an entire building and lives can be lost. And then there’s the “800-pound terrorist gorillas in the room” scenario: contamination of a public water supply. What will they use? A biological or a chemical agent to sicken and kill people?  Presently, they have one thing working to their advantage that provides for the easiest route to do the most damage, most quickly: conventional fire hydrants!

And yes, there are some expensive after-market adapters or locks that can be affixed to the operating nut that will require a key or a new wrench. There are also expensive nozzle caps that can replace the factory caps and they also require an additional and expensive “wrench-thingy” to remove the “secured” caps. Besides cost (which, all-told can be equal to or exceed the actual cost of the fire hydrant itself), two other issues of concern here are that these devices are easily compromised (bypassed) and they can also, depending on the type and hydrant security configuration, greatly slow down firefighters’ access and operation time. The point is this: to fully-secure a conventional fire hydrant with third party devices is costly, largely ineffective, and presents an added burden on the fire department. So, as I was saying …

Fire hydrants are taken for granted and often never thought about … until something tragic happens – a building burns to the ground and people die – all because that “metal water thingy” didn’t work. Fire hydrants are costly to maintain so that they are reliable when needed. And, if they aren’t well-maintained, they present a grave risk to the community where taxpayers have paid for them and expect reliable service. Either of those scenarios is a “lose-lose” proposition: high-cost/lower risk, or low cost/higher risk. So, then, what does a “win-win” proposition look like, i.e., a sustainable low cost/low risk model (hint: did you watch the video?)?  The time has come for the world to accept and adopt a fire hydrant that is now the new standard in fire safety technology; a revolutionary product that saves water, saves costs, and saves lives.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *