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Some spots in Hall lack fire hydrants
Local fire crews have different ways to battle blazes where water is scarce
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Flowery Branch is in a bit of a predicament.

If a fire were to break out in two main areas within the city, fire crews would not have access to a hydrant, yet the areas do not qualify for low income grant assistance.

The 2-inch pipes in those areas don't provide enough water pressure to effectively pump from a hydrant, and the homes are not within the 1,000 feet of a hydrant to allow crews to stretch a hose.

A system of 6-inch pipes are needed to create the required pressure and volume to pump from a hydrant.

Fire crews could battle a blaze in those areas by filling large tanks on the engines.

Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew said the city applied for a grant in 2008 but did not qualify. Budget restraints keep the city from paying for water pipe upgrades.

"It's something we would like to have fixed," Andrew said. "It's not just for fire, it's also just for general use."

The project of upgrading the areas of concern, including a portion of Morrow Drive and Lights Ferry Road, would include installation of several fire hydrants, upgrading main water lines and installing several residential back-flow prevention devices.

The project would cost the city approximately $160,000, Andrew said.

But Flowery Branch has a relatively small area underserved by hydrants compared to many others in Hall County, especially in the Northeast portion of the county.

"Flowery Branch actually is in excellent shape," Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said.

Some areas in the county that lack hydrants don't have access to municipal water. That includes much of Northeast Hall, where many residents use well water.

Not having access to hydrants could decrease the Insurance Services Office rating and lead to higher insurance premiums for homeowners in the areas. The scale rates areas from 1 to 10, with a rating of 1 being the best.

Hall County is a Class 4 for areas within five miles of a fire station and 1,000 feet of a hydrant. Areas outside of 1,000 feet of a hydrant are rated as Class 9 and areas outside of five miles of a fire station are rated as Class 10.

The difference between a rating of 10 and a rating of 4 could mean an approximate savings of $1,000 in premiums.

"We like to say we're a hell of a return on investment because you pay us a $90 fire tax, and we save you over $1,000," Kimbrell said.

The city of Gainesville's water system does not create those issues, though. All residential areas in the city are in close proximity to a hydrant, meaning the Gainesville Fire Department does not have to shuttle water to a fire location.

"The city has a great water system with hydrants," Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada said.

When crews respond to areas that are not in close proximity to a hydrant they can either use the department's 1,800-gallon tanker truck or shuttle three fire trucks from the fire location and the nearest hydrant to fill the 750-gallon tanks. That allows one truck to pump water to battle the fire while the other two fill their tanks.

In some cases, fire crews can pump water directly from Lake Lanier or other bodies of water.

"But it's extremely hard because there are very few areas that you can get a fire truck around a house and down beside the lake without it caving into the lake," Kimbrell said.

Some homeowners purposely install driveways accessing the lake for that reason. Some areas even have dry hydrants with pipes extending into the lake to allow fire crews to suction water directly from the lake, Kimbrell said.

Kimbrell said the process of determining the closest hydrant doesn't become confusing because the county's Graphic Information Systems map allows dispatch to quickly determine the location.

But there are some complications with the process of shuttling trucks, Kimbrell said.

"There are times that the fire is so large that you run out of water, so it has been an issue and could be an issue today," he said.


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