Dry hydrants: A rural route to fire protection

SALEM, Ohio – Advancing rural fire protection one pond at a time, Ohio has installed more than 100 dry hydrants in the past three years.
The push is triggered by money available to landowners for hydrant installation. And there are still more dollars out there, say officials, but only until next May.
The installation of dry hydrants is encouraged everywhere, but especially in places where there is no public water system.
What is it? A dry hydrant is a nonpressurized pipe system in a lake or pond that gives fire department tankers access to water.
“It is like a straw in a pond just waiting for a truck to come and pump from it,” said Bob First of the Buckeye Hills Resource Conservation and Development office.
One end of the hydrant sticks out of the ground for tankers to connect to; the other end is submerged, providing all-weather access to the needed water.
Pumping 1,000 gallons in seconds, a dry hydrant can fill a tank just as fast or faster than a city water hydrant and be extremely beneficial where there is no city water, said Beverly Riddle of the Belmont Soil and Water Conservation District.
Grant money. In 2002, Ohio received $283,000 in grants from the USDA’s Forestry Service to install dry hydrants or nonpressurized hydrants, according to Ed McConoughey of the Erie Basin Resource, Conservation and Development.
In Ohio, the USDA’s RC&D agency is serving as the clearinghouse for the grant money.
Across Ohio, there have been about 115 dry hydrants installed with the help of the grant money, First said.
Fire departments continue to look for available ponds. The site must have a road nearby to make the hydrant accessible in the winter.
Commitment. When one agrees to have a dry hydrant in his pond in Belmont County, for example, he signs a 10-year agreement stating the fire department is allowed to use the hydrant at any time and the fire department will maintain the hydrant.
The time period of the agreement varies by location, but landowners and local fire departments are encouraged to have a written agreement, First said.
The local fire department is generally responsible to come out once or twice a year to make sure the pump is working properly, McConoughey said.
If the hydrants are well maintained, they can last 20 or more years.
Few drawbacks. A normal house fire uses 10,000 gallons of water. A quarter-acre pond, or roughly 104-by-104 feet, by 5 feet deep, would drop 1.5 inches. An acre pond would drop less than three-eighths of an inch.
The water is replaced by rainfall.
There is no threat to fish or wildlife because there is an intake strainer on the end of the tube in the water, stopping wildlife from entering the pump, McConoughey said.
Details. The first step is to dig a trench, glue the pipes and elbows together and then place the pipes in the ground.
The pipe placed horizontally in the ground must be at least 2 feet above the bottom of the lake to stop any sediment from entering the pipe, First said.
The horizontal pipe is usually 2 inches larger in diameter than the vertical pipe to maintain the pressure of the water while pumping.
The hydrant sticks 36 inches out of the ground. Most have a bar in front to rest the hose on during pumping.
The incline of the bank can be a limiting factor when it comes to installation, but fire trucks are able to pull the water up vertically about 20 feet through the hydrant.
Tanker task force. In Belmont County, a Tanker Task Force was established to fight fires in the county in the most efficient way possible.
The task force coordinated fire truck tanks to have 8-inch fittings to fit the dry hydrants with the same fitting.
This means any fire truck in the county can go to any dry hydrant and be able to pump water.
Not every county is as unified, making it important to find out from your local fire department what type of hydrant fitting is needed for its trucks.
The grant money, continuing through May 2006, is distributed by Buckeye Hills Resource Conservation and Development. Each dry hydrant installation can receive up to $1,000 for supplies.
All counties in Ohio are eligible to receive funds for dry hydrant materials.
“If you spend $1,000 on materials and labor, that is nothing compared to what you would lose if your house burned down,” Riddle said.
In some cases, having a dry hydrant can also reduce the cost of fire insurance.
Labor. The labor and the installation procedure will vary from county to county, but it takes about four to six hours to put in a dry hydrant.
Of course, the prime time to install a dry hydrant is when a pond is being built, Riddle said.
If you are interested in putting in a dry hydrant, call your local soil and water conservation district.
Installation of a dry hydrant is usually a collaboration between the local soil and water conservation district, the area resource conservation and development office, a local fire department and the pond owner.
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