Google Helps Locate Hydrants

Years ago, when a snowstorm walloped the city and fire hydrants were hopelessly buried in white fluff, fire crews would get on the horn to one of their old salts who still had the grid memorized.

“If we couldn’t locate a fire hydrant, we would often call retired Capt. Ed Janiak (now deceased) and ask him where they were,” said Chief Gene Doherty. “We’d tell him we were looking for a hydrant on Squire Road near Papa Gino’s. He would think about it briefly, and then say, ‘Go to the telephone pole next door to Papa Gino’s, walk eight paces west and that’s where it will be.’ That’s how good he was.”

During this year’s snowstorm, hydrants are once again buried in the blitz of snow, but savvy fire crews this time are turning to Google Earth instead of retired jakes.

Doherty said fire crews during the recent storms have been accessing the Internet-based satellite-mapping program from laptops and cell phones on the apparatus as they respond – easily able to look at the location of hydrants and pinpoint them without having to engage in the guesswork.

“The firefighters have actually been turning to Google Earth during this storm and finding where the hydrants are at using that while they respond to an incident,” said the chief. “The other day, they were using it a lot. They call up Google Earth and it gives them a very good idea, using the landmarks, where the buried hydrants are.”

That ingenuity is certainly laudable, but it belies a greater problem that surfaced during this storm – people not shoveling their hydrants and private plow services burying hydrants without a second thought.

“There are a lot of people helping us out, but it would be nice if more people were helping us with regards to shoveling hydrants,” Doherty said. “We’ve been going around and trying to dig them out, and there are a lot of people who haven’t shoveled them, but what we’re really seeing is that the main culprits are private plows. Private plows are pushing snow out of people’s driveways and just burying the hydrants. We have no easy way of getting to those hydrants once they’re buried. We actually had four hydrants knocked out by plows.”

Doherty said he plans to push for the extended poles that stick up from the hydrants – such as one might see on DCR roadways or further north in New Hampshire or Vermont.

“We really need to get the poles that stick up from the hydrants,” he said. “The DCR did that on all their hydrants a couple of years ago and it worked out great. I’m going to really push for those to be installed because we just have to have them in these storms.”

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