Fire Hydrant Digging: An Essential Detail

Swampscott has just under 800 of the fire plugs.


Fire hydrants.  The town has just under 800, says Fire Chief Kevin Breen.

A week ago they sat buried beneath a sea of white only to resurface in the following days as firefighters shoveled them out.

It's a ritual that follows each major snowstorm allowing crews to tap into municipal water to fight fires.

The digging started in earnest Sunday morning, Feb. 11, and finished Tuesday afternoon.

You can't travel far in Swampscott, a town of three-square miles, without seeing a red hydrant.

Getting them dug out is a priority, said the chief.

It was even more of a priority last week with a forecast calling for rain in the days after the blizzard. Dry snow piles move much easier than the wet stuff or frozen snowbanks.

"We went after them aggressively early so they didn’t get rained on and frozen up,” he said.

Firefighters rely on a marking system to find buried hydrants. The department has a catalogue and indicators telling them exactly where to find the hydrants, the fire chief said.

Residents typically help, digging out an estimated 10 percent of the hydrants.

How long does it take to dig one after a two-foot snowfall?

It depends, the chief said.

It depends on where the hydrant is, and when the snow falls: all at once; or in stages.

Last week the snow fell at once. So the digging went pretty well. 

In the Blizzard of '78 it took an entire week to dig out all the hydrants in town, he said.

Often a crew can dig out a hydrant in a couple minutes.

But the chief remembers how one time it took an hour to dig out a hydrant by Stanley School.

More snow is in the forecast for Sunday.

It remains to be seen how much but it isn't predicted to come close to the two feet that fell a week earlier.


Gizmo March 20, 2013 at 02:55 PM
I always try to clear the snow from the hydrant near my house on Forest Ave. Please note that the plows pile the snow on the corner of Surpreme Court and Forest Ave. Sometimes there is too much to clear.


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