Fire department out to avoid being burned by the berms

Large snowfalls mean extra work digging out fire hydrants

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2006

After big snowfalls in Kenai, the fire department has a lot more than just its own driveway to worry about. In the Kenai Fire Department area, firefighters have approximately 500 fire hydrants to keep shoveled free of snow in the winter, which is no small task for a department that must always be ready to respond to an emergency.

“It takes us a number of days to get them all cleared out,” said Kenai Fire Chief Mike Tilly. “(But) rest assured that when we are not on emergencies or doing any kind of mandatory training or whatnot, that we are out and working feverishly to get the hydrants cleared ... . They may not see us on the very next day, but within a couple of days we’ll be out there getting the hydrants cleared.”

To make matters worse, as snowplows divert snow from roads, fire hydrants can almost disappear beneath snow berms.

“It’s one of the necessary evils, the crews that clear the streets really don’t have anyplace else to put the snow,” said Tilly.

Crews hired to remove snow from city streets try to limit the snow diverted toward fire hydrants, driveways and other objects the city does not want to obstruct, by using a gate located at the end of a snowplow’s blade. But the gate can only do so much when there is a large snowfall.

“It can hold it for a little bit, but on larger snowfalls, four or six inches or so, a lot of that snow builds up and goes over the gate,” said Keith Kornelis, public works manager with the city of Kenai.

The fire department does what it can to draw attention toward the stubby little hydrants and make sure they don’t get lost in the snow.

“We’ve put flags on all the hydrants, not only for our purposes, because sometimes they’re hard to find, but also for the street crew,” Tilly said.

Tilly said the fire department encourages residents to adopt their neighborhood hydrants by clearing them of snow, and that the department greatly appreciates the efforts of those who do.

Patrice Kohl can be reached at

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