Oklahoma City firefighters have backup system if hydrants fail

When there's no working hydrant nearby, Oklahoma City firefighters rely on tanker trucks, which carry 500 gallons of water, and heavy tankers, which can hold up to 2,500 gallons, Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard.
BY MATT DINGER mdinger@opubco.com Published: August 29, 2011

Firefighters count heavily on fire hydrants, but they prepare to do their work without them if necessary.

“From time to time, we catch a hydrant that is not operating properly,” Oklahoma City Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard said.

Fire crews prepare for that possibility by sending a rig to a nearby hydrant should they find one that is not in working order.

When there's no working hydrant nearby, firefighters rely on tankers, which carry 500 gallons of water, and heavy tankers, which can hold up to 2,500 gallons, Woodard said.

“They're spread out over 621 square miles,” Woodard said of the hydrants. “There's going to be a lot of that (area) not covered by hydrants.”

Woodard said the fire department is not looking to increase the number of hydrants in the city, but that decision ultimately lies with the city council and neighborhood developers, as they're the ones who would pay for them.

Hydrants are generally spaced 600 to 800 feet apart, and only one engine is assigned to each plug when fighting a fire. An average of 400 gallons per minute flow from the hydrants, but that varies depending on water pressure in the area, Woodard said.

Oklahoma City tests each of its 21,000 fire hydrants at least once a year, Woodard said.

Those hydrants cost just over $1,000 apiece for the hydrant itself, and about $100 per foot for the piping connecting them to the water main, Oklahoma City utilities spokeswoman Debbie Ragan said. Since there are between 40 and 70 different parts inside the hydrant, they're only replaced when parts become impossible to find, she said.

Estimating equation

Firefighters have an equation for estimating how much water they'll need. If a building is engulfed by fire, the length of the structure is multiplied by its width, and that number is divided by three to determine how many gallons of water will be needed to put out the fire, Woodard said.

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