Fire Fighters Hampered By Harsh Weather; Residents Can Help
Keeping hydrants free of snow is a vital part of the town's fire fighting.
Town departments are working hard to clean up after the region’s latest snow storm.
When the Department of Public Works busies itself plowing, salting, and sanding during and after a storm, the Fire Department starts shoveling. Accumulating snow quickly obscures a tremendously important asset to the town’s firefighting: fire hydrants.
Tewksbury has some 1,400 hydrants spread across town, many of which become buried from falling snow, or because they are plowed in following a storm. Fire Chief Richard Mackey said that it is the Fire Department’s responsibility to ensure hydrants are accessible.
“Firefighters are out shoveling hydrants,” he said. “We hope to have them all shoveled out.”
Rarely do residents consider how much snow influences the Fire Department. The truth is that foul weather, including the seemingly constant barrage of snowstorms this season, greatly impacts the Fire Department’s operations.
According to Mackey, firefighting duties the department must perform are compounded during harsh winter weather.
“Anytime during the wintertime, firefighting operations obviously are much more difficult,” he said. “Because of road conditions, weather, because (of) hydrants being buried.”
Buried hydrants are troublesome for the department if they have to locate a water supply when fire fighting. It is for this reason that Mackey said that his firefighters try to keep the hydrants clear, if possible.
“Obviously, you don’t want to be digging out a fire hydrant during the middle of a fire.”
Mackey also mentioned that a great way for residents to help out the Fire Department is for them to clear hydrants near their homes.
“It’s not a requirement that residents do the hydrants,” he said. “We’re just hoping that they will assist because there’s 1,400 of them.”
The Fire Department has implemented an Adopt a Hydrant program to help boost visibility and accessibility to hydrants for both residents and the department.
According to the Fire Department’s website, “The Tewksbury Fire Department has partnered with Hy-Viz Incorporated to bring fiberglass hydrant markers to the community.”
Through this program, residents purchase hydrant markers, which the department then locates at the hydrants nearest the resident’s house.
The website also advises people to “keep their hydrants accessible year-round. Snow in the winter and shrub overgrowth in the summer can hamper quick access in an emergency where minutes, if not seconds, count.” You can learn more about the Adopt a Hydrant program at the Fire Department’s website.
Toby Sedgwick is one resident who is thankful for the visibility provided by the hydrant markers.
“The marker is a big help to help us find it when it's completely buried,” Sedgwick said through e-mail. “We take care of keeping the hydrant clear.”
Sedgwick believes that shoveling out the hydrant is important toward helping out the Fire Department and ensuring the safety of her home and community.
“It only takes 10 extra minutes every time it snows and I hate to think of the Fire Department having to take the time to dig it out if there ever was an emergency on our street.”
Though the Fire Department would like markers intstalled on every hydrant, the fact is that about 1000 hydrants aren’t yet marked, which means that they get lost in deep snow. To correct this issue, computers on the town’s fire trucks show the general locations of all of the fire hydrants in town. If that fails, each truck also holds 500 gallons of water and 800 feet of four-inch hose, which can hopefully reach the next available hydrant.
For now, however, Mackey said the Fire Department is doing its best to keep up with the snow.
“We’re out there now shoveling them,” he said. “Between residents doing it…and the firefighters are out there now doing it, they’re trying to get us through the winter.”
Mackey is pleased with the help the department has received from Tewksbury residents.
“A lot of our residents are doing a good job,” he said regarding shoveling hydrants. “I drive around town, I see a lot of (residents) are doing it themselves.”