What’s small and orange and needs to be shoveled out 1,382 times in Concord alone?

  • Concord firefighters Ian Gill (left) and Travis Keeler dig out a hydrant that was buried in snow and ice when they arrived at Otter Drive in Concord on Tuesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • A map shows the locations of fire hydrants in a Concord neighborhood on Tuesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • A fire hydrant on Otter Drive is free of snow after being completely buried before Concord firefighters dug it out in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 2/14/2017 11:09:21 PM

You’re probably a little tired of shoveling snow right now, after clearing your driveway and a path to your mailbox and a path to your Monitor tube, but here’s one more target for your attention: the nearest fire hydrant.

“Some people make it a big pride thing, to clear their hydrant,” said Concord Fire Department Capt. Jeff Stone of the Manor Station fire station in Penacook. “There’s one guy on North State Street … the snow will hardly have stopped falling and he’s out there with a shovel.”

Such effort is much appreciated by firefighters and other city workers, who are responsible for clearing the 1,382 city-owned hydrants in Concord after every major snowfall.

“We give them a thumbs-up when we drive by,” said firefighter Travis Keeler.

There are also 520 private hydrants in Concord, which are colored yellow and are the responsibility of property owners. The city hydrants are orange, with different-colored caps to indicate water pressure.

Keeler and fellow firefighter Ian Gill had just finished digging out what may be the worst hydrant in the city as far as snowfall goes, at the far end of the Otter Street cul-de-sac near Beaver Meadow Golf Club. Because of its placement, street plows from both directions push snow onto this hydrant, according to Stone.

“This is about the worst,” he said. “We couldn’t even see it today.”

And even though the weekend storm produced light and fluffy snow, the pressure of the plows had packed it solid around the hydrant – as is often the case.

“Sometimes we have to chip at it with axes,” Stone said.

There is an obvious reason to help the water department and fire department crews uncover hydrants from deep snow, since every minute counts when fighting a house fire.

“If we’re screaming in (to a call) at night, we might not see it, might drive right by it. We could spend 10 minutes trying to dig it out, or have to run a line to the next hydrant,” Stone said.

A hydrant that has been properly dug out needs a couple feet of clearance – “there has to be enough room so the hose won’t kink” – as well as space in front of the large street-facing outlet and the two smaller outlets on the side, which get used if more water is needed to battle a blaze.

Tuesday was a perfect day for digging: dry and sunny. Crews from each fire station printed out maps from the city’s GIS database to show the location of hydrants in their sector and headed out, marking them off as they went. By lunchtime, Stone’s three-person crew had cleared more than 50 hydrants, as well as taking time to respond to two fire calls.

That’s a lot of digging, as well as jumping in and out of the fire truck. What lessons did these shoveling pros have for the rest of us?

“Lift with your legs,” Gill said.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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