A day in the life of a firefighter: Go with the flow
Richmond firefighters keep hydrants working
By Crystal Wylie Register News Writer
(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of stories recounting a day in the life of a Richmond firefighter. It is about what firefighters do, whether responding to emergencies or not. The next installment will focus on firefighter training.)
Many times, they go unnoticed.
They’re in your yard, among your landscaping, on the side of your street or in undeveloped field somewhere.
Fire hydrants — seemingly insignificant, but not when they’re needed.
All through the year, except during winter months, Richmond’s firefighters are testing the city’s more than 1,500 fire hydrants.
When firefighters are called to an emergency, the hydrants must be ready to pump enough water to tackle any flame, said Buzzy Campbell, RFD chief.
Each of the city’s stations send three-person crews to test about 50 hydrants a day, often covering whole neighborhoods in just a few hours.
Children hoping to cool off in the hot summer sun will follow the testers down the street for the chance to splash around in the water that flows during the process.
But sometimes, the hydrants shoot out small rocks, Campbell said, so children are advised to not stand too close while the firefighters are working.
Water-flow testing apparatus comes in two varieties, a “water monster” and “water horn.” Optimal flow is 800 to 1000 gallons per minute, Campbell said. A pump on the fire truck can boost the water to around 1500 GPM.
To prevent causing a mess in neighborhoods, the testers will use a “water monster,” said RFD Captain Chris Dause.
The device is attached to the hydrant and allows the water to run through a hose, which is then diverted through a two-way pipe, diminishing the water pressure.
However, a device called a “water horn” is used if nobody is around because it shoots the pressurized water up in the air, Dause said.
While one firefighter uses a large wrench to open the water flow, another firefighter stands at a neighboring hydrant to test its “residual pressure.”
This is important because firefighters can find out how much pressure is left in that main in case they need to use a second hydrant during an emergency.
Hydrants are placed no more than 500 feet apart, Dause said.
A third and final “static test” measures the pressure in the water main, which indicates whether there is something wrong with just one hydrant on the main.
The department’s fire engines can store between 500 and 1,000 gallons of water in their tanks, ensuring they always have a backup if a hydrant is not accessible.
This is especially helpful when responding to fires in farm areas or on the interstate, Dause said.
Keeping hydrants working correctly is an important yearly duty for the department, the chief said, and can affect the city’s insurance rates.
After the fire department has completed hydrant testing, a full report is given to Richmond Utilities and Madison County Utilities, both of which own hydrants within the city. The report details any problems the firefighters found and identifies which hydrants need maintenance.
This fall, there are plans to color-code the hydrants, which will indicate the type of flow to be expected. The color-coding will follow National Fire Protection Association standards, ranging from blue (highest pressure) to red (lowest pressure).
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, ext. 6696.