Keeping hydrants clear of snow

The hydrant in front of Ishpeming High School on Division Street is one of over 300 municipal hydrants. City residents in Ishpeming and Negaunee are asked to adopt a hydrant by keeping an approximate 3 foot area around the fire hydrant clear so it can be readily available if the fire department needs it during an emergency. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — “Out of sight, out of mind.” The seemingly innocuous adage can have dire consequences if the subject is fire hydrants.

In fact, as one winter storm seems to pile onto another, many fire hydrants are truly “out of sight,” which in case of fire emergency can result in costly delays.

“Imagine how hard and how long it would take you to shovel the fire hydrant clear of snow,” Ishpeming Fire Chief Ed Anderson said. “It’s no different for the firefighters — it takes several minutes when seconds count. Or they cannot locate the fire hydrant even though we have a pretty good idea where (they’re) located. We may be digging just two to three feet from where the hydrant really is, not good for our firefighters or you.”

This time of year, with over 34 inches of snow falling locally in January and 16 inches of snow, ice or hail falling so far in February, according to the National Weather Service office in Negaunee Township, it’s easy to see how a standard 29-inch-tall fire hydrant could become obscured.

Officials in cities like Ishpeming and Negaunee are asking residents to “adopt” a fire hydrant.

Anderson said in years past, the Ishpeming Department of Public Works has attempted to clear the roughly 325 fire hydrants in the city.

“These days, with less DPW workers, (they) may not have time to clear snow from around fire hydrants when really needed,” Anderson said.

For roughly the last decade, the city has asked residents to help out by adopting a hydrant.

“This is not a formal program. Simply clear an approximate 3-foot area around the fire hydrant so it can be readily available if the fire department needs it during an emergency,” Anderson said.

Negaunee residents are also encouraged to adopt one of their city’s 250 fire hydrants, that city’s website states.

“We also remind residents and businesses that while you’ve got that shovel out, check all the doors around your own home and businesses and make sure they are clear and open,” the Negaunee website states, “to not only ensure that medical responders would not be hampered in their ability to treat a patient, but in removing a patient and transporting to a medical facility.”

Anderson also suggests caution when plowing snow in the vicinity of a fire hydrant.

“Please don’t plow snow onto the fire hydrants, shovel or snow-blow onto them,” Anderson said. “We see this happening more than one would think. Just imagine someone plowing snow onto a fire hydrant, then trying to shovel it out in an emergency.”

The threat of winter fires is real, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. People are at greater risk in the winter season when cooking or using unsafe heat sources. That risk can also increase with the use of candles for light during electric outage, Anderson said.

United States fire departments responded to 499,000 structure fires in 2017, resulting in 3,400 deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association website.

The U.S. Fire Administration reports that while winter home fires account for only 8 percent of the total number of fires in the country, they result in 30 percent of all fire deaths.

Home structure fires in the winter cause an estimated $2 billion in property loss, the USFA website states.

The chances of damage and loss of life decrease, when fire suppression equipment like fire hydrants are accessible, Anderson said. Just a few extra minutes clearing snow can make all the difference.

“You’ll have peace of mind if a fire should happen near the fire hydrant you’ve kept clear,” Anderson said. “Firefighters will have faster access to it when seconds count in an emergency.”

For more information about the adopt-a-hydrant in Ishpeming, call 906-486-4426.