By FD Hacks
For most Americans, falling snow is one of the joys of winter months. It’s the fuel for winter activities like snowboarding and sledding. It inspires the holiday spirit, covering the ground in a beautiful white blanket while inside sipping hot chocolate by the fireplace with the family. But for those of us that took an oath to protect our communities, snowstorms can translate into something very different. Firefighters rarely get to enjoy a good snowfall with families, as the weather conditions usually mean we’re called to duty. In addition to 911 calls, firefighters can’t help but think about the fire hydrants across our communities that are slowly buried with every snowfall. This can be devastating to a fire response. Showing up to a building fire, only to have the water source impeded by a wall of snow can add minutes to a response. This can be the difference between life and death, between saving a house or losing it.
Sure, many municipalities have ordinances that require property owners to clear out their hydrants after a snowfall. But many municipalities also have speed limits, and we see how well those work…
So as with most responsibilities of the modern firefighter, we must rise to the occasion, as we always do. After a particularly heavy snowfall, or a series of back-to-back snow storms, get the team together and shovel out hydrants across the community. A little pre-planning on this front will go a long way. Develop a well thought out list of streets and respective hydrant locations. This way you can track what has already been done and can deploy resources in a coordinated schedule that has logic to the direction of travel as they move from one hydrant to the next. Pre-planning hydrant shoveling will also allow you prioritize the operation so you can clear out hydrants in critical areas, such as those near target hazards, in more densely populated areas, or surrounding higher-risk populations. It also makes for good public relations and gets us out in the community.
In no way would I argue that this responsibility should fall squarely on fire departments. It requires community effort and ultimately, property owners should maintain access to hydrants on their property. This topic should be part of our public education programming. When we’re out in the public conducting programs, or fire inspectors are conducting inspections, we should be educating our community about their obligation to maintain access to hydrants and the reasoning why it is so important to the safety of their neighborhood.
But we know this won’t always happen. Some people just do not know. Others won’t care. There are also some residents that have trouble shoveling out heavy snow near the road, including elderly and disabled residents. But that’s why we’re the members in our community that took an oath to protect our communities. We’re the ones that get to put the uniform on. We’re the people our community calls when they’re in trouble. A clear hydrant can literally mean the difference between saving and losing a life. If we can make our communities that much safer, and our jobs easier, than we should do it.
Disclaimer: Always consider your own personal safety, as well as fire department policies.