By the time the fire department gets around to asking this question, it is generally too late to do anything about it. A reliable water supply (and thus sufficient fire (low) can only be attained by careful planning and taking all the necessary measures.

Consider this: The fire department should be able to provide an initial water supply powerful enough to bring an incipient fire under control before it causes extensive damage. If this is not successful, a sustained water supply is required to contain the fire until it can be extinguished. When a sustained water supply is required over a long period of time, the total water supply then becomes extremely important.

One of the most common reasons for water shortages is the fire department’s dependency on other agencies or departments to provide the water needed for fire protection. Public water systems (with adequate storage, a good distribution system, and fire hydrants installed at strategic locations) are the best source of water for most fire departments.

The local government, public service district, or another water utility usually is responsible for installing, operating, and maintaining the system (including fire hydrants). However, they may not place the same importance on the fire protection capabilities of the system as the fire department does.

The water utility’s primary responsibilities are to provide potable water to customers and produce enough revenue to pay for capital costs and operating expenses (while generating a modest profit). Since fire hydrants do not pay water bills, a call from one of the utility’s private customers probably would receive more attention than a fire department notice concerning a faulty hydrant.

Another reason the water system management and personnel generally place a low priority on fire protection concerns is that they are not directly involved in using fire hydrants and are, therefore, not familiar with the fire department’s requirements.

The mere presence of fire hydrants in an area does not necessarily ensure an adequate water supply. In some cases, there may not be enough hydrants to cover the area effectively; or because many systems have not been expanded fast enough to cope with development, the maximum flow might not be high enough to protect the buildings at risk.

Moreover, in some areas (such as limited access highways and bridges), hydrants are not readily accessible. Privately owned syslems are sometimes inadequate and poorly maintained.

If the fire department does not take the trouble to establish a close relationship with the water utility and does not notify the repair service as soon as a problem with a hydrant is identified, the system operator. who may not be aware of the defect, cannot be expected to repair it in a timely manner.

When a water system is unable to supply the required flow or cover the entire area, the fire department has to provide sufficient water to supplement the available flow and an alternate supply if no hydrants are readily available. To do this effectively, the fire department must have enough apparatus, personnel, and equipment. It also must be able to identify, develop, and make available alternate sources in areas where there are no hydrants. Furthermore, it must have the ability to transport water from those sources.

Much emphasis has been placed on hazmat operations in recent years, but very little has been placed on the necessary water supply to handle dangerous situations. At one national training conference this year, only four out of nearly 300 educational opportunities (such as seminars, classes, roundtables, etc.) were even remotely connected with water supply. That is quite discouraging for a variety of reasons, including that the Insurance Services Office (ISO) allocates 40 percent of the maximum possible points in a Public Protection Classification (rating) to water supply.

From a practical standpoint, nearly all of the equipment carried by the typical fire department requires a dependable supply of water to be used effectively. Unfortunately, many fire departments do not take any responsibility for water supply. Instead, they take the stance: “You can’t expect us to put out a fire when there are no fire hydrants.”

Each of the succeeding articles in this column will deal with some aspect of fire department water supply under the basic assumption, of course, that every fire department is responsible for ensuring an adequate water supply in its service area.

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