SOUTH PORTLAND — Every time a winter storm hits, firefighters stand by, waiting to be deployed with shovels to dig out the city’s more than 700 fire hydrants.
Depending on the volume of snow and ice, the effort is laborious for the Fire Department, which has about 13 firefighters per shift. Clearing all the hydrants while still responding to calls can take as few as four hours, or as many as 14, Lt. Robb Couture said Thursday.
This season more so than others, residents have helped alleviate some of the burden by voluntarily shoveling out hydrants near their properties.
Of the 700 hydrants in the city, residents have consistently uncovered between 80 and 100, Chief Kevin Guimond told City Councilors at their Feb. 23 meeting – an accomplishment Guimond said has been tremendously helpful.
Couture said he believes the increased citizen awareness and action is due, in part, to the volume of snow the city received in a short period of time. That, and the department’s presence on social media, specifically Facebook, where it often highlights citizens’ efforts to help out to its nearly 4,000 followers.
The department’s Adopt-a-Hydrant program, which began about 10 years ago, has also increasingly drawn awareness to the issue, Couture said.
The program seeks to raise awareness and provide an incentive to action so that, in case of a fire, the department is able to act more quickly. It also provides a way “for us to interact with the public,” on social media and in person, Couture said.
Fire Department trucks have started honking when they pass resident-shoveled hydrants. A few thank-you notes have even been stuck to hydrants, thanking residents for their help.
It’s a mutually beneficial effort, Couture said; if the department responds to a fire at someone’s house and the hydrant is covered, “it’s going to take us longer to put your fire out.”
Two recent fires are good examples.
Early Monday morning at 57 Huntress Ave., crews arrived to find hydrants shoveled, which allowed for quicker response. The same occurred at 143 Ocean St. in late February, where firefighters arrived to find a man shoveling out the hydrant.
Lt. Paul Salway wrote a formal thank-you letter to the public in late February.
“A fire can double in size every two minutes so hooking up to a hydrant quickly is a priority. With 500 gallons on a truck flowing at 125 gallons a minute, the water from the hydrant is needed within minutes,” Salway said.
“With plenty of winter left we are sure there is more shoveling ahead for everyone. Thank you to everyone who helps out those who are unable to shovel and those who help with the hydrants.”