When Seconds Count:  Clear Your Fire Hydrant and Save Lives

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Fire hydrants should be clear of vegetation and debris within a three-foot radius. Courtesy/TVF&R
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At Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, everything we do is measured in seconds. In the academy, we are first given 60 seconds to put on our fire gear. Then, we practice donning our breathing apparatus in 60 seconds. Then, we’re given 60 seconds to do both at the same time. Finally, we practice how to “take a hydrant” as quickly and efficiently as possible. This requires precise movements, practice, and learning how to solve problems when the fire hydrant is corroded, broken, or otherwise obstructed by vehicles or vegetation. 

Seconds matters because fires can double in size every 30 seconds, and a room can become fully engulfed in flames in three minutes. We always practice being as fast as we can, but one big step everyone can take that helps us be even quicker is evaluating your fire hydrant. 

Obstructed fire hydrants have been on the rise in our service areas, and it’s not just vehicles in front of hydrants that cause problems. Surprisingly, a simple overgrown tree or shrub may be a much more dangerous obstruction than a vehicle because these are blocking your fire hydrants all the time. These obstacles are becoming increasingly prevalent and are entirely preventable.

The property owner is typically responsible for maintaining spaces around fire hydrants, and that space can be the difference between whether that hydrant can be used by firefighters or not. Fire hydrants are sometimes spaced up to 800 feet apart. An obstruction to one fire hydrant may put neighboring residents at risk by requiring firefighters to find the next closest fire hydrant in a time when seconds count.

To prevent injuries, firefighters operate hydrants from the backside and secure large hoses to various ports available. Fire hydrants should be clear of vegetation and debris within a three-foot radius. With all their gear on, that 36 inches of clearance allows crews to quickly access the water available within. 

Although each of our fire engines carries at least 500 gallons of water, this can be used up in as little as 2 to 4 minutes of firefighting. That’s why early access and availability to the closest fire hydrant is crucial for putting out fires fast, thereby increasing survivability and decreasing property loss. 

Residents, homeowners, and business owners should evaluate their fire hydrants and remove debris and vegetation. If you don’t have a fire hydrant on your property but see one that needs attention, you may want to contact your HOA or property manager. You may also offer to help someone clear a hydrant on their property who may be unable to do so themselves. 

Remember, most property owners are unaware of the proper use of fire hydrants and the space necessary for firefighters to use them, so be kind in your education. With your help, we can continue to improve our preparation for emergencies. The mission at Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue is to create safer communities through prevention, preparedness, and effective emergency response. Your help in this matter will assist us in every aspect of completing that mission.