Hydrant flushing leaves town all wet

However, there’s more than one kind of flushing, and I’m not talking about a neighborhood in New York. Your skin can flush; you can build something flush with the wall; and you can go to Washington and flush tons of taxpayer money, which now that I think of it relates a lot to the first form of flushing.

You can also flush fire hydrants, which is something every community with fire hydrants needs to do from time to time. Since the town of Albion is flushing hydrants this September, I thought I’d explain a bit about the topic.

Now, we can have a serious and straightforward discussion about maintaining fire hydrants, or, if you prefer, I can insert bad puns and generally make fun of stuff … yeah, that’s what I thought.

You don’t have to have a fire hydrant in order to put water on a fire. In fact, the Albion Fire Department has two water tenders, which are great big tankers that carry enough water to fill up your bathtub several hundred times and still have enough left over to wake your teenagers up every school morning for eighteen years. The AFD also maintains a pumper-tanker, which is a fire engine that carries extra on-board water to battle rural fires; in fact, about two-thirds of the AFD’s fleet is designed primarily for rural emergencies.

A good tanker shuttle, with plenty of trucks running back and forth and fire engines at both the water source and the fire, can flow about 250 gallons per minute (gpm). It’s labor intensive, involves a lot of driving big trucks on narrow roads, and it usually gets its water from – wait for it – fire hydrants. If there’s no lake nearby, you just have to go further to reach the hydrant.

To compare, a hydrant can flow 500 gpm and still qualify as a bad hydrant, with inadequate flow for modern day firefighting.

Some years ago, after flow testing was done, Albion’s hydrants were color banded according to how much water they could flow. Far too many ended up with red bands, and more with orange, which is considered marginally adequate – kind of like Congress, only better. Green is a flow of 1,000 – 1,499 gpm, considered good for residential areas (our two newest fire engines have 1,250 gpm pumps). Blue bands would indicate over 1,500 gpm, which designates them as “Holy cow – the desert is blooming!”

Many of us, like an old guy with prostate problems, were unhappy with the lack of adequate flow. As a result Albion built a new water tower, connected together its two distribution systems, and started a program of replacing and expanding water mains. (What, you think magic was getting water to the hydrants?)  So … how much will the hydrants flow now?

That’s what the September flow testing is designed to find out. Utility workers will not only make sure the hydrants are working and properly maintained, they’ll also measure the flow rates and assign new color codes. If a fire crew pulls up to a very large fire and sees a red banded hydrant nearby, the officer might make the decision to go another two blocks to a green banded hydrant.

I expect, after these tests, that there will be fewer red banded hydrants to worry about.

So flushing hydrants, like flushing toilets, is a good thing.

The problem is, they have opposite results to the average homeowner. I think we can agree that when you flush your toilet, things look – ahem – better. If they don’t, you’ve got a real problem.

However, when you flush a hydrant it sometimes discolors water, which can become a reddish, orangish, pinkish, or other ish, and that’ll get your attention.

There’s nothing new in the water. Just the opposite: The discoloration is caused by sediment that’s been sitting there in the pipe for, in some areas of town, a century or more. Ordinarily water in those pipes runs at a snail’s pace. (No, there are no snails in the mains – pay attention.) But flow testing a hydrant means running it full blast for several minutes to clean out debris, make sure it’s working correctly, and measure the flow.

Here’s an easy comparison: Your shower flows water the way your spinster great-aunt spent money. A fully opened hydrant flows water the way the federal government spends money. As a result the rushing water, just like a federal spending program, tends to attract bottom feeding crap.

(No, it’s not really crap, and it’s not really feeding – it’s a metaphor, darn it! Or a simile. One of those.)

So yeah, it may discolor your water a bit. No problem: You don’t have to boil water, have it tested, or contact your Congressman, who’d just be upset about my metaphor/simile anyway. Just avoid doing any loads of white clothes for awhile, and if you do discover discolored clothes, wash them again before you dry them. If you run a faucet for awhile the water will magically clear, just like magic.

Meanwhile, Albion’s water gets tested regularly and always shows up with a number two pencil: they keep it clean with chlorine, fluoride, prayer, and happy thoughts from a water sprite, among other things. Seriously, there’s an EPA smiley face sticker at the water plant even as we speak, and since Washington charges municipalities forty-eight thousand dollars for each smile, you know your tax dollars are hard at work.

So Albion’s hydrants will be as prepared as possible for fire protection, and you should feel no need to move to Flushing. But if you do ever move there, don’t tell them I made fun of their name – that’s all water under the bridge.

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