2015-03-06 / Community

Firefighters thankful for help shoveling hydrants

By Lt. Paul Salway
South Portland Fire Department

The greater Portland area has already received 82 inches of snow this winter and it has taxed the resources of every city department. No department is more aware of this than members of the South Portland Fire Department. There are more than 700 hydrants in the city that have to be shoveled every time it snows enough for the city to plow the streets. With an average of 13 firefighters per shift, that is a lot of shoveling.

In speaking with Chief Kevin Guimond, who has been with the department since 1987, he said, “I cannot recall a year when the crews have had to work so hard in the course of a month. The past four weeks the department has responded to over 300 emergency calls while shoveling over 5,000 hydrants during a period of storms. Without the great support of our residents and public works department, this could not have been accomplished.”

A fire can double in size every two minutes, so hooking up to a hydrant quickly is a priority. With 500 gallons on a truck flowing at 125 gallons a minute, the water from the hydrant is needed within minutes. That is why the department has to make sure the hydrants are clear of snow and can be accessed. To wait until there is actually a fire would endanger both the firefighters and residents of the structure. This has meant more shoveling for the department than usual this winter.

Many civic and safety minded citizens shovel the hydrant nearest their house. This is a great way to help your neighbors and the fire department.

“There are many more shoveled by residents compared to when I started in the department,” said Lt. Robb Couture, a 19- year department veteran. “It seems to be more in the public consciousness because of programs like ‘Adopt a Hydrant.’”

This program is prevalent in many smaller communities that do not have career fire departments. A resident, or group of residents, shovel the snow from the hydrant closest to their home. This helps smaller departments that do not have the resources.

The department responds to emergency calls while they are shoveling.

“People do not stop needing help just because it snows. They still have heart attacks, give birth and get into car accidents,” Couture said.

While they are responding to emergencies, the hydrants are waiting for them. It is dangerous to shovel because of traffic and the narrow roads due to snow. Also, more drivers today are distracted by texting. After dark it is even more dangerous. The department tries to have them all shoveled during the day but sometimes it doesn’t happen because of the volume of calls.

Couture also wants people to think of their elderly neighbors during snowstorms.

“Some residents are older or cannot shovel. They are more likely to need an ambulance. We also do a lot of shoveling on calls because people are unable to clear their driveways and exits. We are more than willing to do this but it does slow our access to the patient,” he said.

Department officials also would like to remind to people to shovel all doorways so they have more than one exit from their home in case of an emergency. Also, make sure your heating vents are shoveled and that you have working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. If you do not, contact the fire department and they can assist you with these items.

Mike Norton, who has been with the department for five years, is very appreciative of the efforts of citizens.

“We do not mind shoveling them but it certainly helps us save time and resources when some of them are done. We really appreciate the effort. This is a great community and it is great to see neighbors helping each other and still have time to think of us.”

With plenty of winter left, we are sure there is more shoveling ahead for everyone. Thank you to everyone who helps out those who are unable to shovel and those who help with the hydrants.

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