Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Employees of the Gwinnett County Government Department of Water Resources Michael Wilson, left, Samantha Jenkins, center, Hunter Bagley and Joey McDaniel, far right, perform maintenance on a fire hydrant at the intersection of Five Fork Trickum and Lindsey Renee Lane in Lawrenceville. The crew apply a food grade grease to lubricate, flush out surface water and spray a fresh coat of paint on the exterior.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- With children crying for a favorite blanket left inside and a mother wondering if the family pictures will go up in smoke, firefighters have to work quickly to put out any blaze, even when everyone is already safe.
They need everything to be ready, just in case, even the water in the pipes and the hydrant at the curb.
That's why the county government spends about $680,000 a year inspecting and repairing hydrants. Commissioners approved a contract earlier this month for replacement parts to make sure local hydrants are more than just a sniff spot for neighborhood dogs.
"Improperly working fire hydrants could cause firefighters to stretch fire hoses over a greater distance to find a positive water supply when battling blazes," said Tommy Rutledge, a spokesman for the county's fire department. "Protecting the community means keeping fire hydrants in good working condition and accessible to responding fire crews. When properly maintained fire hydrants ensure the safety of residents and fire personnel alike. A non-functioning fire hydrant could cause a delay in getting the necessary water supply to control or suppress structure fires. We are fortunate that Gwinnett County takes seriously the need to maintain its fire hydrants."
While the firefighters are an "end user" of the hydrants, they have to rely on the people in the water department to make sure the hydrants are in good working order.
It takes a preventative maintenance crew working year round to fulfill the task, said Karen Kelley, a construction manager for the county's Water Resources Department. In all, the county keeps up with 41,802 hydrants, although some cities maintain their own.
To make sure they are in good working order, the fire and water departments agreed that each hydrant should be inspected every three years, Kelley said. If a problem is found, then a work order is created for the hydrant to be repaired.
More than 10 percent -- or an estimate of 4,888 -- require repairs every year, she added.
For the water system, the hydrants help to flush out lines and to reduce pressure when repairs are needed on pipes, Kelley said. They also are useful in allowing cameras to detect leaks in the system.
For residents, the hydrants not only are vital to quick response to fires, but Rutledge pointed out that the maintenance program helped county residents with their insurance bills. The water department's success in maintaining the hydrants was noted in a report last year on the county's insurance rating.
"It is important to keep fire hydrants operating properly since water is considered the primary agent used to suppress fires," Rutledge said. "Having adequate water sources available for firefighters helps to ensure the community's safety."