Omaha Fire Hydrants: How Reliable Are They?

Melina MatthesPAPILLION (KPTM)- Quite a few of Omaha's fire hydrants aren't working tonight and that isn't unusual. It is an issue that has caused big problems for firefighters. MUD Is responsible for nearly 27 thousand fire hydrants around the city and officials say on any given day, a handful don't work. When the hydrant is out of service, MUD puts a bag on it. The bag is an indication to the fire department that if there's a fire, they'll need to find a different hydrant. In an Omaha neighborhood near Cass Street, a hydrant is being replaced after a car hit it. "I drove home one day and I saw the components just lying on the ground and the first thing I thought of was, did that thing ever work?" Jim Tokheim said. Tokheim says he never really paid much attention to it. It was something he took for granted until he saw it dismantled. "Well you kind of wonder, if you have an emergency here and they need to get water from a hydrant what we're they going to do?" He says it wasn't fixed for two weeks. Gene Siadek with MUD says that in a typical month, 10 to 20 hydrants are struck by cars. "When a sheered hydrant is reported to us, we have people go out there and we'll repair it within a day or two." His crews also have to maintain nearly 27 thousand around the city, making it tough to keep up. "Well I guess in comparison it's a very small percentage, but if that one is needed, then it's pretty tough to tell people well, the small percentage is not a big deal." Siadek says they check the hydrants every four years and often in the winter they find the hydrants are frozen. "We've had fire hydrants that have had caps that are seized up that we haven't been able to get open." MUD doesn't serve Papillion because officials said it's not part of their area. However, Papillion Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Jones says they train for frozen and broken hydrants. The firefighters carry tools to open them and once it's open the water flows fast. A hydrant normally pours out about 1500 gallons of water per minute. "It isn't like we're going to pull up to a fire, hydrant doesn't work and we're going to leave. We're going to do what we have to do to initiate and maintain a water supply." Each day dispatch provides them a list of hydrants that don't work, giving the firefighters a chance to find available hydrants when a fire occurs."You just don't know when it's going to happen and hopefully it never happens to anybody, but in the event that it does occur you have to have those fire hydrants that function and provide that water supply." Firefighters come up with contingencies, like running off of tank water. All of the vehicles used at the Papillion Fire Department have tank water, that way some of the firefighters can start fighting the fire while another team finds a different hydrant. Firefighters say another challenge they face is when people block fire hydrants. People often park too close to them or plant shrubbery around them to hide them. However under municipal code, planting anything that will block the view of a fire hydrant from the street is not allowed. If you do, the utilities district could shut off the water supply to your home or company.