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December 31. 2012 3:53PM

Towns ask residents to help firefighters keep hydrants clear of snow

DOVER – Area firefighters ask residents to lend a hand digging out thousands of hydrants that can hinder efforts during emergencies.

As snow removal crews plow the streets and clear sidewalks, Assistant Fire Chief James Ormond said it is up to Dover firefighters to dig out the city’s 1,156 fire hydrants before the snow freezes in place.

“The last three days we’ve sent out crews,” Ormond said Monday, adding it would help if residents could dig out nearby hydrants, especially if one is near their homes.

Ormond said this does not have to be an extensive excavation, nor should it take very long if neighbors help each other out. All firefighters need, Ormond said, is a small path from the road to the hydrant.

Being prepared saves critical minutes running hoses from a hydrant and that can save lives, Ormond said.

While daytime temperatures are predicted to remain around 20 degrees, it is expected to drop to 5 degrees tonight and near 1 degree Wednesday evening, according to a forecast by the National Weather Service.

In Rochester, Assistant Fire Chief Mark Dupuis said off-duty firefighter have been called in during the past to help dig out hydrants when the city’s water department crews fall behind, which is especially common when heavy snow falls in back-to-back storms.

As a result, Dupuis said it’s in resident’s best interest to help if they can.

“It’s an insurance policy for yourself,” Dupuis said, adding it can take five minutes for firefighters to dig out a hydrant when the snow is soft, but a backhoe has had to be used after heavy snow freezes in place.

To ensure they have enough water to extinguish fires, Dupuis said Rochester firefighters deploy tankers or engines with increased capacity during storms or before hydrants are cleared.

There are about 1,100 hydrants in the city, according to Rochester’s Public Works Department.

Somersworth Fire Lt. Sean Houle said the city used to pay a company $40,000 to dig out hydrants the day after a storm, but the task now falls onto firefighters due to budget cutbacks.

While the company could complete the task in about a day, he added it takes firefighters about a week.

“We’d appreciate any help we can get,” Houle said, adding firefighters will be digging out hydrants Monday afternoon.

There are about 475 hydrants in Somersworth, according to Public Works Director Tom Willis.

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