ELIZABETHTOWN — Folks in Elizabethtown will soon start noticing the fire hydrants in town are looking a little different. That’s because firefighters are preparing to embark on their annual testing of hydrants owned by the town.
The testing is expected to begin over the next week, said Elizabethtown Fire Chief Nick West.
“We’re required by the state insurance office to get a fire rating,” said West.
He said the fire insurance ratings range from 1 to 10, with one being the best and 10 being unrated. West said the fire department receives points toward its insurance rating for things like policies, fire hydrants, equipment and such.
West said the members of the fire department will visit each fire hydrant and inspect it for things such as obstructions like shubbery or trees, check for any type of visible damage, make sure the caps come off, the valves open and close properly, that the hydrant has water flowing, and it has pressure to name a few things.
West said they also check to make sure the hydrant is oriented towards the street. He said sometimes something will happen and a hydrant will accidentally get knocked over. West said someone will notice it and stand it back up thinking that it is undamaged, but they will turn the hydrant facing in the wrong direction.
West said they will also check the hydrant barrel for foreign matter and obstructions in the water barrel of the hydrant. He said firefighters will also check to ensure the barrel of the hydrant drains back into the system properly and check for leaks.
“What we are trying to do is test our system,” said West.
He said that firefighters will be testing the hydrants for the rate of flow, meaning how many gallons of water per minute are flowing from the hydrant, and also checking the amount of pressure on each hydrant. West said they will also oil and replace the caps of the hydrants. West said the oil used to lubricate the caps is vegetable oil. He said this is to ensure that the caps will come off when there is an emergency.
West said the firefighters will actually open the valves of the hydrant and let the water flow from the hydrant. West said if any hydrants are found to be damaged or in need of mechanical repairs, the Public Works Department will be notified.
West said the hydrants will also be painted using a color coding system that will denote the number of gallons of water that will flow from each hydrant. He said for example, when a fire engine arrives at a scene and the engine company sees two different colored hydrants, they immediately know based on the color of each hydrant how many gallons of water they can expect to pump from each hydrant and choose the hydrant with the best flow rate for the situation.
West said that when you see a fire hydrant with a blue cap and top, it means it can flow 1,500 gallons of water per minute; typically a yellow hydrant with green top and caps mean the hydrant can flow about 1,000 to 1,499 gallons per minute; and West said an orange colored cap and top can flow between 500 to 999 gallons per minute and red is 500 gallons per minute or less.
West said one important thing firefighters will be doing is checking to be sure there is a 3-foot clearance around each hydrant.
“People don’t realize you have to have a 3-foot radius around the hydrant for firefighting purposes,” said West.
He said the biggest problem they usually find is the caps are stuck and they have also found hydrants where the stem will spin but the hydrant won’t flow any water.
West said that once testing is completed on the hydrants the residents may notice their water is a little dark. West said that should clear up, but if they have any questions or concerns about their water, they can call the Public Works Department at 910-862-2035.
—Erin Smith can be reached at 910-862-4163.