You know it’s springtime when the fire hydrants are being checked.
A twice-a-year ritual, Hall County Fire Services tests and maintains each of the county’s nearly 7,000 fire hydrants during about a six-week period in the spring and fall.
In a procedure that takes about 15 minutes, firefighters unscrew the caps, grease the works up with a substance similar to vegetable oil, and make sure the hydrants aren’t dry.
They used to perform flow tests to check water pressure, but don’t anymore because of the dirt and grime it knocks loose in residential waterworks.
“We elected not to muddy the water,” Fire Chief David Kimbrell quipped.
Each hydrant in Hall County is mapped on the county’s Geographic Information System, which allows 911 dispatchers to tell firefighters the closest location of a hydrant when they’re on the way to a fire. Regular hydrant checks are part of the process of maintaining a good rating from the Insurance Service Organization, or ISO, which is a factor in home insurance premiums.
With 1 being the best and 10 being the worst, Hall County has an ISO rating of 4 for residents living within five miles of a fire station and 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant. The ISO rating declines to a 9 if the house is within five miles of a station but has no hydrants nearby.
The Gainesville Fire Department’s district has an ISO rating of 2, among the best in the state.
Hall County was last evaluated by the Insurance Service Organization in 2005. Evaluations are typically performed every 10 years.
Officials hope to improve on the county’s ISO rating by moving Station No. 3 West from Price Road to the area of Will Wallace Road and Cool Springs and building a new station on Mount Vernon Road. The cost of building the stations has been funded by a voter-approved sales tax, but the projects are on hold until the county can afford to staff them.
Not all Georgia counties check their hydrants as often as Hall, and some that do, like Forsyth County, hire outside contractors to do the job.
“There’s nothing that says you have to do it,” Kimbrell said.
“But to get the maximum (ISO) credit, you have to do it twice a year. We feel it’s a better service for our citizens to get the most credit we can. We think our guys need to be out there anyway, to see where the hydrants are and get a better feel for the area.”