Hydrants still a priority in winter

Published 7:49 am Thursday, January 6, 2011

With this winter's heavy snow so far, keeping fire hydrants clear and free of ice becomes an ever-growing concern. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Keeping fire hydrants clear in the winter months might not be the first thought in the midst of a snowstorm, but fire officials say it should be.

Under the city’s fire code, businesses are responsible for the upkeep of hydrants. That means snow plowed on their lots cannot block or bury the hydrant.

“If the snow impedes, they (businesses) are responsible and liable for that,” said Austin Fire Chief Mickey Healed.

Email newsletter signup

While residents aren’t held to city codes, Healey said it is encouraged for homeowners to keep the area surrounding hydrants clear for the entire neighborhood.

“It would just be a good neighborly practice to make sure the hydrant is clear,” Healey said. “If you have a hydrant on your property, everyone near your property uses it.”

While Healey said a fine could be issued to businesses that do not comply, he sees the potential loss of the businesses itself as punishment enough.

Aside from making sure hydrants are clear in the case of a fire, department officials also deal with the possibility that frozen temperatures could keep the hydrants from working all together.

Hydrants in Austin are tested once a year to ensure proper function. But when temperatures drop below freezing, there’s always a risk that the seal to the hydrant could crack, causing the device to malfunction.

Healey said there’s no way to be absolutely sure that a hydrant is working, as testing them requires an intensive process.

“There’s no good way to test one because usually to test one you have to charge them full of water,” Healey said.

Usually fire fighters find out at the least desired time.

“It just happens,” Healey said. “A good maintenance program keeps that to a minimum.”