ELIZABETHTOWN — The Elizabethtown Fire Department is painting the town red — and green … and orange and blue.
Last month, department staff and volunteers began painting hydrants around the county as part of an ongoing effort to lower insurance ratings. The default color for hydrants from any factory is red, but many fire departments use a color-coded system recommended by the National Fire Protection Agency. Known as NFPA 291, the guidelines let fire personnel know at a glance certain information about the workings underneath the apparatus.
“Most people think you just go up to a hydrant and get water, but they don’t realize the size of the pipes determine how much water comes out,” said Elizabethtown Fire Chief Nick West.
Firefighters measure the output of any water source in gallons per minute, or GPM. Using NFPA 291, hydrants hooked up to a public source have a base, or barrel, painted yellow, and their tops and caps indicate the available GPM. Caps and tops painted red indicate the lowest level of GPM (below 500), orange caps reveal a GPM rate of 500-999, green caps reveal a GPM rate in the 1,000-1,499 range, and blue caps reveal the highest water flow — more than 1,500 GPM. A red barrel indicates a hydrant linked to a private source like a pond or well.
Once the hydrants have been color-coded and tested, they are entered into the GIS system the department uses.
“Fire service is becoming very advanced in technology,” said West.
Once a call comes in, the location and type of emergency is entered into the system, and fire personnel can pull up on their phones or other devices the site of the fire and the nearest water source, as well as its GPM. A vehicle fire, for instance, wouldn’t require the same amount of flow an industrial building would need, so personnel can determine which hydrant they’ll need for the job, and which equipment they’ll need once they get there.
With more than 400 hydrants in need of painting, and given that the department is also servicing the hydrants and clearing debris in a 3-foot radius around them, West said he didn’t know how long the project will take to complete.
“We’re working hard to help make them safer and make sure we have a reliable water source for the specific emergency we have,” he said. “It may take a while, but we’re doing it for a positive reason.”
The color-coding of the hydrants is all part of a larger plan — a positive thing in its own right. The department’s recent purchase of a new fire truck, grants enabling the addition of five personnel, and specialized training are all part of a concerted effort to lower the town’s insurance rating. In addition to the aforementioned items, departments get points for things like the number of people who respond to a call, communication, available equipment, maps, correct addresses in the system, and the number of people on staff at any time. The more points received, the lower the departmental rating, which translates into lower insurance rates for residential and commercial owners.
For West, though, it all comes down to one thing.
“In fire service, speed is everything,” he said. “We’re trying to find problems before they find us and before we have a fire, so we can get there with help as quickly as possible.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.