When dealing with a structure fire, time is of the essence so the last thing a fire crew wants to deal with is not being able to find a fire hydrant to hook up to quickly.
Yet with the cold and snow this winter, buried fire hydrants are a concern.
“It has to do with how we position our trucks,” Rhinelander Fire Chief Terry Williams said. “We may have to move 500 feet down the road because we can’t see the hydrant right in front. So it definitely delays us from getting water to our trucks.”
Clearing the hydrants is usually the job of the Rhinelander Water Department but this year has been taxing on them as well.
“These guys are working hard with all the freeze ups,” Williams said. “They are just trying to get people to have running water in their houses again. They are getting 30 to 40 calls a day.”
Williams said other city departments have chipped in to help out where they can.
“The public works department has been out clearing hydrants, the parks department,” Williams said.
But the biggest help has been Rhinelander citizens digging out hydrants in front of their homes.
“I can’t thank the citizens who are keeping the hydrants clear in front of their homes enough,” Williams said. “It really is a matter of safety. I know that if my house were burning down I would not want anything to slow down the fire department. So it really is a safety issue and it helps us as we respond.”
The result has been good access to most hydrants in the city.
“It hasn’t been too bad,” Williams said. “There are a few that are really buried and if you drove up, you wouldn’t really know where the hydrant is.”
That is more of an issue now with the warmer weather the area experienced earlier this week. The thawing and refreezing of the snow has made it more compacted on top of buried hydrants.
“It is heavy, compacted snow now,” Williams said. “Especially with the warm weather.”
If needing to access the hydrant, firefighters would have to dig out the hydrant and then test it to make sure it will provide water.
“We always flush out the hydrant when we arrive on scene to make sure it will provide the water we need,” Williams said. “We want to make sure the hydrant is working properly before we hook the hose up to it.”
Williams said there is a chance the hydrant could be frozen but that is unlikely unless the main froze as well.
For those who know of a buried hydrant and want to clear it out, Williams said a couple of feet on each side of the hydrant is all the firefighters would need.
“We don’t need six to eight feet or a great big area around the hydrant,” the chief said. “A couple of feet will do just so we can get our wrenches in there and attach the hose.”
While this winter has been trying for many people, Williams said he is grateful at the way people have chipped in to keep the city safe.
“For those residents that have kept the hydrants cleared this winter, thank you from me and thank you from the city,” Williams said.