Beads Aid Hydrant Visibility

Beads Aid Hydrant Visibility

Applying beads to hydrants is done with a homemade spray gun while hydrant paint is still wet. Below, diagram of air gun assembly.

Photo by Richard A. Cowan

Finding fire hydrants in poorly lighted areas at night can be difficult and even result in delays. An assistant chief with the Eastside Fire District, Stockton, Calif., has discovered a method to diminish this problemmake fire hydrants so they will glow.

According to Assistant Chief Burrell Sullivan, a hydrant is first painted and then immediately coated with highway safety spheres. These are tiny round glass beads used for luminous highway signs. When apparatus headlights or spotlights are flashed on beaded hydrants, the result is a brilliant glow!

The only equipment required to apply glass beads are a fire truck with air brakes, several commercial parts, and a special coffee-can spray gun invented by Delbert Lovdal, a San Joaquin County Public Works Department employee.

This ingenious spray gun can easily be built for about $3.00.

Two short pieces of ½-inch galvanized pipe are attached to a ½-inch tee. The pickup pipe, connected to the branch of the tee, is brazed to the inside of a 3-pound coffee can with the end of the pipe approximately 1 inch from the bottom. The other pipe is the discharge tube. Opposite this tube and fitted to the tee are three reducers: ½-inch male to ⅜-inch female, ⅜-inch male to ¼-inch female, and ¼-inch male to 3/16-inch male. These are coupled to obtain a reduction to 3/16 inch. A standard air gun is connected to this assembly.

Pipe and fittings

Copper tubing is extended from the outside edge of the 3/16-inch reducer to a point within the tee just beyond the discharge side of the pickup pipe. This position is important because a vacuum must be created in the pickup pipe so that the glass beads will be sucked up from the can and blown out the discharge pipe.

An air supply at 125 psi to the air gun will blow the glass beads onto the wet paint satisfactorily. A convenient way to get this air is by tapping into the air brake system on a fire apparatus. Fasten a quick-coupler to an air tank bleeder valve and connect a 25-foot length of air hose. This arrangement is useful not only for the spray gun, but also, with other attachments, for inflating tires and blowing out compartments. Proper air supply can be maintained by revving up the engine.

Beading a hydrant

Once the sprayer and hose have been coupled to the air tank and sufficient pressure has been attained in the air brake system, the actual glassbeading can start. First, paint the hydrant. While the paint is wet, quickly spray on a coating of glass beads. If the paint dries too rapidly, just paint and glass-bead portions of the hydrant until the entire hydrant is covered. This entire process should take only about 10 minutes.

While beading hydrants is valuable in itself, there is an additional benefit if on-duty personnel do the work because, as Sullivan pointed out, a fireman will “more readily remember hydrants that he’s worked on.” Also, minor maintenance can be done just before painting the hydrant.

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