Bringing water closer to homes

2 fire companies use grant to buy `dry hydrants'


Two Carroll County fire companies are using federal grant money to make it easier to access water for fighting fires in rural areas.

Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department and Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company are installing "dry hydrants" in their response areas through grants awarded under the National Fire Plan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.

"We received hazardous mitigation grant money for 100 dry hydrants over three years statewide, and this is the third year of the program," said Monte Mitchell, state fire supervisor with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Forest Service.

Mount Airy and Winfield each received $3,000 last year for two dry hydrants apiece, then $4,500 this year for three more apiece.

The dry hydrant system makes it easier for fire engines and firefighters to hook up to a nearby water source where there are no regular hydrants.

"These dry hydrants are something that makes the firefighter's job much easier, and it's a safety thing, too," said Doug Alexander, deputy chief at Mount Airy. "It's a safe way for us to get water from a stream or pond, instead of taking a hard suction hose to extend to the water source, and sending the firefighter back into the woods. Sometimes you can't get that close to the water source."

Brian Van Fossen, fire protection specialist in the Carroll County Office of Public Safety, said there are 25 to 30 of these hydrants throughout the county, many on private property.

"It's a way of accessing a water source with pipe, because the problem with ponds and streams is accessibility in getting a large vehicle next to a pond. This puts a permanent pipe in so you can get water to a heavy vehicle on the road," Van Fossen said.

The system includes a strainer to filter out fish and residue at the water source, then piping to the road, bridge or other accessible site. The pipe comes out of the ground and has a hydrant head on it that firefighters hook up to the engine hose, said Mitchell.

Rather than a pressurized hydrant, the dry hydrant uses the engine's pump to suction the water.

To install the dry hydrant, the fire company chooses a site it thinks will offer a good water source year-round. If the site is on private property, permission is needed from the landowner, then permits from the Army Corps of Engineers. The fire company usually hires a contractor to install the system.

"When you install these things, you have to know if the pond will support a drought," Alexander said. "We examine the pond or source and install it so it goes very deep into the pond. We check them periodically, and go out twice a year and clean them out and clean out around them. It's got to be a good source or it's a waste of our time."

Mount Airy has six dry hydrants on the Carroll County side of its response area, Alexander said. Of the two placed last year, one is near a mobile home site, and the other is at a nursing home.

The system can help homeowners.

"It also saves the homeowner money on insurance," Alexander said. "A couple of people called that their homeowners' insurance went down because they had a dedicated water source that close to their home.

"This is one of those chances you get to help yourself," Alexander said. "And it's nice to be able to return to the homeowners. Once these new houses start burning, they burn really quick, so we make sure we have as much water as we can."

Unlike Mount Airy, Winfield has no town in its response area, and only one regular hydrant at Century High School, said Scott Legore, Winfield's public information officer.

Winfield bought a 3,500-gallon tanker truck four years ago to help fight fires, and has been pushing for dry hydrants, but was unable to get funding until now, Legore said.

Last year, the company installed a dry hydrant at a pond across Liberty Road from the firehouse on property that had been donated. Another is on Salem Bottom Road at Bloom Road.

"[Fire chief] Greg Dods said if it's possible, he'd like to do a fourth hydrant if the cost is low enough," Legore said.

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