Bluffton firefighters: Don't hide fire hydrants

astice@islandpacket.comMay 4, 2012 

A fire hydrant might not be the most attractive feature on a front lawn, but concealing it with landscaping could hinder firefighters' response in an emergency, according to the Bluffton Township Fire District.

"We only carry a limited amount of water on our trucks," district public-education officer Sandy Stroud said. "If we have to start cutting down bushes and trees to get to a hydrant, that water would go very quick -- in about eight minutes."

A new awareness campaign by the district aims to teach residents to keep at least a 5-foot clearance in all directions around hydrants so firefighters can better do their jobs.

As a dry spell that made last month the second-driest April on record continues into May -- contributing to blazes such as the large brush fire Wednesday on Lemon Island -- the message becomes especially important, Stroud says.

Firefighters inspect the 4,900 hydrants in the district a few times a year but are unable to cut vegetation on private property, Stroud said. The hydrants, most of which are owned by the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, also are tested and painted annually, according to Joe DeVito, authority director of field operations.

DeVito said the amount of clutter around hydrants varies by neighborhood.

"What often happens with these hydrants is that they're originally installed in developments -- Sun City, Hampton Hall, those type of communities -- when they are being built," DeVito said. "Homeowners move in later and start planting."

The authority and the district hope property-owners associations and civic groups will "adopt" hydrants to keep them spruced up and clear. The authority will supply the paint and tools, DeVito said.

The Beautify Beaufort organization is one of the first to take the authority up on the offer and added maintaining hydrants to its list of beautification and renovation projects in downtown Beaufort this spring, DeVito said.

So far, hydrants concealed by plantings have not hindered the Bluffton Fire District's response to an emergency, but residents need to pitch in to keep it that way, Stroud said.

"We're lucky we haven't run into that yet," Stroud said. "But it's going to happen sooner or later. The older the community gets, the older the buildings get and the higher the vegetation grows."

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