Hydrant testing essential part of public safety

If, on your travels through the City of St Augustine, you have recently spotted a firefighter standing next to a hydrant that is gushing water, you have probably wondered about the seemingly wasted water and the firefighter’s appearance of little activity.

In this case, looks are deceiving. What seems like a simple, non-activity is in reality an important step to ensure that the city’s firefighting equipment works and works to capacity when needed to do so.

Just as with any other piece of equipment, the city’s extensive network of fire hydrants has to be periodically checked to make sure they are working to capacity. A small defect that goes undetected in a hydrant could mean serious problems when, at a moment’s notice, that hydrant must perform at full capacity.

To prevent such problems, the St. Augustine Fire Department maintains a strict schedule of inspections and maintenance of the city’s fire suppression systems. Annual flow testing of fire hydrants allows the department to identify the amount of water a certain fire hydrant can deliver during an emergency.

In addition to measuring the water pressure and flow amount, when firefighters visit the 650 hydrants in the city they conduct a thorough inspection including checking for leaks, checking that the valves operate properly, flushing out rust and corrosion that could cause deterioration of the hydrant, and verifying the exact location on the department’s resource map.

Checking hydrants on a regular schedule is both the law and good business. Florida Statutes require that hydrants be inspected and tested each year and the Insurance Service Office, the body that sets property insurance rates based on a fire safely rating, requires that all hydrants be tested twice a year. The city’s current ISO rating is a three on a scale of one to ten, one being the highest rating.

There are unwanted side effects of hydrant flushing. One is the temporary drop in water pressure due to the flushing and another is the occasional appearance of rusty water in homes and businesses near where the flushing occurred.

Running a lot of water through a pipe that has perhaps not been used recently will stir up sediments and shake loose some rust particles causing a brief period of discoloration of water.

The fire department works through local media and the city’s own information sources to publish locations and dates of testing to alert businesses and residents of the possibility of discoloration. Where there is discoloration, running the water for four to five minutes usually relieves the problem. In addition, while testing overnight might alleviate some of these inconveniences, it is necessary to test when the water system is in full use, so testing must be scheduled during the day.

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