Vandalism Spurs Check On Hydrant Conditions
Warm weather in Newark, N.J., is dreaded by fire fighters because the advent of summer means the hydrant vandalism season is with them again. When the temperature rises into the 80s and 90s, both adults and children open hydrants, little realizing the amount of water they waste and the fire hazard they create. When too many hydrants are opened, the water pressure drops and adds to the fire department’s problems in controlling fires.
You wouldn’t believe the extent of the damage done to hydrants in Newark by vandals. Gravel, stones, beer cans, bottles, metal and everything but the kitchen sink are dropped into the 2 1/2 and 4 1/2-inch outlets of our hydrants. One of our chief officers saw a man teaching his nephew how to damage a hydrant with a sledge hammer. The man was taken to court and fined.
We have tried almost everything to prevent hydrant vandalism, but to no avail. A device was fitted to hydrant stems so that the hydrants could be opened only by using a special wrench. As ingenious as we were, the vandals were even more so. They soon learned to remove the 4 1/2-inch cap and open the hydrant by reaching in and turning the stem with a pipe wrench. Of course, whoever did this got soaking wet, but this was the objective in the first place.
Finally, we had to have the water department shut off some hydrants at the gate valve by using a wrench with about a 5-foot stem. This meant a delay in getting water for a fire while a fire fighter or a water department employee opened the gate valve. This practice usually infuriated the vandals, who took out their anger on the hapless hydrant by beating it into submission with sledge hammers, rocks, or anything else they could get their hands on.
When this failed to satisfy them, the vandals took off gate valve street covers and filled the hole with rocks, sand, dirt or anything else available. This meant further delay in getting water for a fire, but this never seemed to enter the vandals’ minds; although they generally live in the neighborhood and the next fire may be in their house. They would probably blame the fire department for the delay in getting water.
Fire fighters attacked
The water department has done a monumental job in restoring hydrants to operation in Newark, but it seems that just as nearly all the hydrants are back in operating condition, another “clobber the hydrants” season begins. In addition to being costly and frustrating, the hydrant problem is also a dangerous one. Fire fighters, water department repairmen and even policemen have been attacked while shutting down hydrants.
To combat this problem, Chief Joseph M. Redden appointed a committee consisting of Deputy Chief James O’Beirne, Battalion Chief James Nolan, Captain Vincent Merenghi and myself to see if we could at least devise a method of keeping track of hydrant damage so that company officers would know which hydrants were out of service in their districts
As a result of this committee’s recommendations, a hydrant maintenance plan was developed for the Newark Fire Department. When a fire department member is told about a defective hydrant by anyone—fireman, policeman, water department employee or civilian—he must record it in the company journal. In addition to the hydrant location and the name of the person making the report, the fireman receiving the report must also note if the hydrant is a high or low pressure one and obtain any other pertinent information.
The captain must fill out two defective-hydrant cards and send one to the fire department water officer or to the water department. The other card is placed on the company’s defectivehydrant board.
Each fire company with a hydrant inspection district has a defectivehydrant board in the captain’s room. The board, made of plywood, is 19 X 24 inches and has 12 hooks, placed in four vertical rows of three hooks each, for holding defective-hydrant cards. Each of the four tours has its own row of hooks on the board. In descending order, the three hooks in each row are for red cards denoting the need for urgent repairs, white cards for nonurgent repairs, and white cards indicating closed gate valves.
photo by Joe Marino.
The captain in charge of the inspection area in which defective hydrants are located is responsible for checking on the conditions of those hydrants. The captain of each tour, along with his men and apparatus, must reinspect defective hydrants in his inspection area on the first day tour of duty he works each month if the weather and other conditions permit it. Furthermore, these inspections must be continued until each hydrant has been repaired, and each captain must reinspect his hydrant district at least once a month.
After a hydrant has been repaired, the defective-hydrant card for that hydrant is removed from the board. If a hydrant has not been restored to service after a monthly reinspection, an additional defective-hydrant card is sent to the water officer or the water department.
I enlisted the help of Merenghi to prepare the 37 defective-hydrant boards needed to provide one for each company in Newark.
Our plan will not stop vandalism, but at least the fire department can now keep an accurate check on defective hydrants and, hopefully, we will be better able to cope with the problem.