The yearly test is required by the Insurance Service Office, an agency that gives fire departments ratings on a one to 10 scale based on firefighter training, fire station location, equipment, water supply and communication systems.
Anniston Assistant Fire Chief Rick Sensenbach said Anniston firefighters are talking about testing their hydrants twice a year. Sensenbach said the test often stirs up rocks and sediment that get stuck and it’s imperative to remove it before the water flows through a pumper truck.
“You’re talking about a couple hundred thousand dollar piece of equipment and if those rocks and sediment get inside that pump it can cause a lot of damage,” Sensenbach said.
The tests can result in brown or rust colored water flowing into homes near the hydrant under observation.
“The brown water is not harmful, but you wouldn’t want to drink it,” Anniston firefighter Clint Dover said. “It will stain your clothes.”
The Anniston Fire Department tests around 1,800 fire hydrants annually. The department began this year’s testing in March.
Besides the ISO rating, Sensenbach said, it’s important to test hydrants at least once a year because construction nearby could require the hydrant to be turned off and city workers could forget to turn them back on.
“It would fall through the system if someone didn’t check it until it was needed,” the assistant chief said.
Sensenbach said firefighters have discovered hydrants that were damaged by cars or that have sticks and rocks inside a missing valve.
“Mainly it’s to make sure they’re operating for an emergency, but sometimes there’s maintenance and upkeep that needs to be done on them,” he said.
In April 2009, a Jacksonville couple sued the Calhoun County Water Authority for a fire hydrant they claimed was ill-equipped to fight the fire that destroyed their home. Fire hydrants outside the Jacksonville city limits hadn’t been tested for three years, fire and water officials said in 2010.
Joel Prickett, superintendent of the Calhoun County Water Authority, said this [TUESDAY] afternoon that the volunteer fire departments are responsible for testing hydrants in rural areas considered outside the fire jurisdictions. Prickett was uncertain how many hydrants were tested by the volunteers, but said he believed they were working on them this month.
Once they’re tested, the water authority receives a report and performs any necessary maintenance, Prickett said.
The 460 hydrants within Jacksonville city limits have been tested each year since before 1995, according to Jacksonville fire Assistant Chief Chris Roberts. Roberts said the fire department began and finished their testing in March. It can be difficult to test all the hydrants in a timely fashion, Roberts said, while answering emergency calls, attending public safety events, as well as other day-to-day testing.
Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sparks said his fire department started testing their estimated 900 hydrants in April and expect to be done by the end of the month.
“We’ve been testing hydrants for years,” Sparks said.
Rodney Owens, assistant general manager of the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board, said the typical life of a fire hydrant is long.
“Some of them date back to the turn of the last century,” Owens said.
The biggest threat to fire hydrants? Motorists, according to Owens.
The water board makes it a priority to respond immediately to hydrants that aren’t allowing water flow or maintaining water pressure, Owens said.
It’s a five to 15 minute test that could make a difference during an emergency, firefighters said.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.