TIMELY ATTENTION TO FROZEN HYDRANTS
There should be no difficulty in impressing upon the mind of the average water department official the imperative need of eliminating the frozen hydrant as a dangerous feature of winter-fire peril. There appears to exist an erroneous impression that, as long as the water or fire department inspectors bring to light “only a few frozen hydrants,” the danger is inconsiderable. Records of the past contradict this belief, and, as no one can foretell where or when a frozen hydrant will be met with, great chances are taken against fire and frost co-operating, with fatal result. The consequence is always delay and increased property loss. Too frequently human life is sacrificed, and often large fires form the outcome, with a possible conflagration-hazard.
There has been a conscientious endeavor to care properly for fire hydrants, in which fire and water departments have co-operated. A divided responsibility has sometimes made the problem more complex. It will be noted that in large cities the frozen hydrants sometimes number thousands, and the increased frequency of use of hydrants often means an increase in the number of hydrants frozen. There seems to be a mistaken idea that this is due entirely to obsolete types of hydrants; but this opinion is not always borne out by facts. There are no known types of hydrants in use that are free from liability to freeze. This does not necesarily reflect upon the type of construction of tinhydrants, but focuses attention upon the peculiar conditions which exist, in one form or another, in all communities where a system of hydrants and water mains is in use. It is a dangerous and false sense of security which prompts a water official to feel that his inspectors have thawed out a hydrant, for the same hydrant represents a possibility—the fire may eventually get there ahead of the inspector. So long as it was impossible to overcome the condition described, firemen have been subjected to constant worriment. A scientific means of overcoming the menace, however, has been perfected, and the system has been under test by the water department of New York city for over three years.
A number of fire chiefs, waterworks superintendents and insurance men to whom the system has been presented have expressed their approbation of it, as a most likely method of overcoming the trouble, and the extreme simplicity and perfect operation of the system has clearly demonstrated its great value. Fire departments are in constant fear of trouble arising from frost, which means the nullification of the time saved by costly time-saving devices. the delays sometimes ranging from five to twenty-five minutes. The records tell their own tale. New York city went down with a list of nearly 2,000 frozen hydrants last year, and yet this is a city equiped with modern hydrants and with a daily inspection by the fire department in cold weather, while the city has a drainage system as good as a gravity drainage system can be made. Chicago and other large cities have a corresponding number. The immense burden of responsibility becomes each year more serious in proportion to the growth of the municipality. The insurance interests do not bear the burden of the loss. It is a tax on the general public. So long as no means of overcoming the menace has been known, both departments have been obliged to struggle along. If it is known that a means of prevention is within easy reach of the department, neglect or faijure to avail themselves of this means invites severe criticism. It would be easier to compare the records of various cities of this country, if there were records kept of frozen hydrants. Unfortunately for themselves, many cities keep no such records; others inspect only at intervals of two weeks; and others look over the hydrants in the fall and then have a general housecleaning in the spring. In cities where the fire departments have authority to inspect, the method frequently in vogue is to make a daily inspection with either a steam boiler to thaw out or a bucket of salt. The latter method is very injurious. setting up galvanic action, which tends to destroy the valves. An accurate means of testing the hydrant has necessitated the partial opening of the main valve, with a consequent flushing of the water into the hydrant barrel, whereby a shell of ice is formed when the temperature is below freezing, and the repeated testing has resulted in either partial or entire obstruction of the flow of water with its attendant consequences. This drove many water and fire departments to neglect inspection, feeling that they were, so to say, between the “devil and the deep sea,” and that no inspection was better than one which absolutely assured freezing. Some fell back on plumblines—an indeterminate method, owing to leaks, and, in both cases, the backing up into the hydrant of surface-water from the surrounding soil or obstructions by snow, ice., etc., in sewer connections, resulted in ice-formation. Sometimes clay soil prevents drainage; obstructions frequently clog drain-valves immediately after use by the fire department, and the dead water or slow drainage resulting thereby promptly causes freezing. Under extreme temperature conditions, with drainvalves working free and clear, freezing often occurs.
Officers of the two important departments of fire and water should certainly take some action in the matter and at least investigate, and, if the means of prevention exist, the moral obligation to the municipality demands the adoption of any positive method of prevention.