Gongol.com Archives: January 2024

Brian Gongol

January 17, 2024

Weather and Disasters Clear your hydrants, snow-dwellers

While a lot of the modern lifestyle is the result of specialization and outsourcing -- from online tutoring to meal-prep kits to mobile oil changes -- there remain some things that really can't be outsourced. Nobody else is going to floss your teeth for you. ■ One of those must-do-it-yourself jobs is to clear out the snow and ice from around fire hydrants in the wintertime. The lowly fire hydrant is a phenomenal innovation in human history: Ben Franklin's Bucket Brigade was itself a big step forward, but it was indeed a bucket brigade. Fire hydrants are remarkable for delivering a virtually unlimited supply of firefighting water to within a matter of yards of where the water is needed. ■ A top-tier municipal fire department takes only minutes to get to the scene of a fire: For reference, a 2-minute turnout time and 6-minute travel time is good enough as a benchmark to earn an enviable Class 2 rating and an elite accreditation for the West Des Moines Fire Department. ■ And conscientious departments work to reduce that response time in ways that may not even be obvious, like having streets re-striped to reduce lane congestion so emergency vehicles can get through even faster. Still, no fire truck, no matter how fast, can get to the scene of a fire faster than a pressurized municipal water line feeding a hydrant. ■ What goes under-appreciated, though, is that any time spent digging out the nearest fire hydrant from under snow and ice had better be done before the trucks arrive, or else all of the professional preparation required for quick response times goes to waste. If it takes five or ten minutes in a pinch, that's nothing but wasted time. Someone has to do the digging sometime, and the least-preferable option is after the firefighters have arrived. While the firefighters are en route seems like a pretty awful time to have to start scooping, too. ■ A mid-sized city could have 10,000 fire hydrants, and no matter how one slices it, that's a daunting number to try to keep clear. Even with an organized effort, it would still take a lot of time. ■ Clearing snow from around a hydrant may be an unpleasant task for the homeowner (or a fastidious neighbor), but expecting someone else to do the job is like hoping someone else will floss your teeth: Chances are, it won't lead to imminent disaster. But for the trivial effort required, and for how directly you yourself are the one to benefit from the effort, is it really worth taking a risk by skipping the work?

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