On Wednesday, a pair of Newnan Utilities technicians checked a fire hydrant on Inverness Avenue in Newnan. They opened it up, stuck a fire hose to one side and began the process of flushing the hydrant out, sending water flying into the street.
An occupant of the home behind the hydrant came out to see what was going on, making sure everything was alright, and everything was. What the technicians were doing was purely standard operating procedure for Newnan Utilities and other utility companies, as part of a yearly program to ensure the water remains clean and clear for customers, and to ensure hydrants are in proper working order when needed.
Brandon Lovett and Brad Binion with Newnan Utilities explained the necessity of flushing the hydrants.
“Initially, six years ago, when we started this, our main view on starting a hydrant flushing program was two things. First of all, the city was looking for their ISO number to go up,” Binion said. “In that process, what we were thinking of from the Newnan Utilities side was we definitely wanted that ISO to go up. We were having some maintenance problems on some hydrants, and hydrants need to be touched and operated at some point.”
Approximately 2,080 fire hydrants are within the city of Newnan and Newnan Utilities’ control. The hydrants are divided up into four different categories, depending on when they are maintained.
The utility maintains most hydrants on a three-year rotating schedule, which means one group of hydrants will be flushed and checked on year one, a second group on year two and a third group on year three.
A fourth group of hydrants is checked every year. These hydrants were selected to be checked yearly due to their closer proximity to a larger population, Binion said.
“We verify the yellow hydrants in areas that are considered to be high-risk areas,” he said. “Churches, schools, downtown areas, the Cancer Treatment Center of America, hospitals. Not that your residential areas aren’t high risk areas.”
Newnan Utilities’ hydrants are flushed out in the summertime, and the annual flushing period started June 1 as extra help came in for summer jobs. On Wednesday, two crews were out flushing hydrants. The process is likely to go on throughout the summer.
“We’re blowing a lot of water on the ground. It’s hard to do in January or February, and not only from an employee’s standpoint of being cold, but we blow it on the ground and next thing we know, the intersections are frozen.”
Hydrant flushing helps out water quality
When one goes on YouTube and finds videos of fire hydrants being flushed, they find videos of brown water being expelled from the hydrants. This is caused by sediment that has developed in the water system and is normal.
Lovett said that when a fire hydrant is flushed, it is done to improve the clarity of the water.
“What we’re doing is enhancing the water quality overall,” Lovett said. “We’re bleeding off the systems. We’re getting, in some cases, some stale water out of there, we’re getting in some cases older pipe that’s going to have more of an issue than younger pipe.”
On Wednesday, as a hydrant was being flushed on Inverness Avenue, a Newnan Utilities technician got out a cup and filled it with water being flushed from the hydrant. This was done to check out the clarity of the water, which improved as it was flushed.
During the flush, a smell of chlorine could be observed. These represented some of the chemicals used to keep the water clean and safe to drink.
When the water clarity and quality is to the liking of the technicians, the hydrant is closed off and the flush is concluded.
In the past, when Newnan Utilities performed more sporadic flushing of fire hydrants, Lovett said there had been complaints about the quality of the water — like the water had been stained, among other complaints.
Flushing the hydrants is considered “a good maintenance practice” to help keep the quality of water high, but the practice also has another benefit for the area’s fire departments.
Newnan Utilities does hydrant flushing to help ISO rating
Part of the reason for the flushing of fire hydrants is to determine what hydrants can supply the most amount of water to firefighters in the event they need to utilize the fire hydrants.
“You’re flushing hydrants for several reasons,” Lovett said. “Number one, the ISO, as mentioned, is our opportunity in some way to give back to our citizens and enhance lower insurance rates.”
The ISO, or Insurance Services Office, rates fire departments nationwide for their effectiveness in fighting fires, and part of their criteria includes the capability of the department’s supply of water.
In fact, 10 points of the possible 105.5 points that the ISO can give in a Fire Suppression Rating Schedule are dedicated to fire hydrants, their design, installation, and their proper testing and working order. Another 30 points are dedicated to the water supply system available to the fire department.
Specifically, ISO “compares the available water supply at representative community locations with the needed fire flows for those locations,” according to their website.
“So God forbid we have to fight fires in those areas, we need to know the water is available to those hydrants for the fire departments,” Lovett said.
Back in 2017, the Newnan Fire Department saw its ISO rating improve from 3 to 2, which allowed residents and some businesses to save on their insurance bills.
Explaining the red, green and yellow tops
As a way of helping out the fire departments, Newnan Utilities paints their hydrants in one of three colors.
The colors on the hydrants serve as communication to the fire departments to tell which hydrants to use in the case of a fire.
“The worst thing that can happen, is they pull up and the first two hydrants they hook to don’t have water, and that can happen in systems.”
There can be a variety of reasons for a hydrant not providing the proper amount of water flow, but the color-coding system was put in place to prevent firefighters from having to guess, in the middle of an emergency, which hydrants will be more effective than others.
“In any system, there can be low-flow hydrants, hydrants that just won’t flow enough water to fight a fire. You can have one on this corner and the next 10 can be just fine. So we’re able to work with the fire department, identify if there is a low-flow hydrant in the area, and be aware of it and just not hook up to it and go on to the next one.”
The system identifies those low-flow hydrants by painting their tops red. The fire departments know, by looking at the red hydrants, that these hydrants will not supply enough water to help them fight a fire at a home.
A yellow-topped hydrant will provide an adequate supply of water, while a green-top hydrant will provide the optimum amount of water.
A red-top hydrant supplies less than 500 gallons per minute of water, a yellow-top hydrant supplies 501-999 gallons per minute, while a green-top hydrant supplies 1,000 gallons or more of water.
“They know, when they pull up, what the hydrant’s flowing,” Binion said. “When they pull up, they’re not looking at a computer, because they’re in an emergency, they’re looking for that green hydrant, and that’s what they’re tapping on to.”
Newnan Utilities keeping track of water lost through hydrant flushing
While some may express concern over how much water is lost through the flushing of fire hydrants, Newnan Utilities and their crews keep track of that amount of water loss.
“The guy that is technically over the hydrant program keeps up a monthly water loss audit for us, and they translate that to the office, and that’s how we keep up with the water we’re using,” Binion said. “Each crew has a book they keep up with.”
In that book, crews keep track of how many hydrants were flushed in a day, how many gallons of water per minute flowed, and at the end of the month, that information is relayed to the office.
“Every year, we do a water loss audit through the state,” Lovett said. “That takes into account every bit of loss that we have. So water loss can be hydrant flushing, a water main break, leaking joints, pipes leaking all day every day that we haven’t found. Typically, our water loss is around 6-8 percent, which is extremely low compared to our peers.”
In addition, Lovett said that Newnan Utilities will pull back on hydrant flushing in the event of a drought situation.
“Honestly, not so much because we believe that (the) overall number of gallons that we’re putting on the ground is not worth what we’re doing, but perception. If you’re ever in any kind of drought, the first calls you get is why can’t I water my lawn when Brad’s blowing water all over 2nd Avenue. We’re very conscious of the situation we’re in and what we’re doing for the system.”
Next week, the Newnan Times-Herald will look at how Newnan Utilities uses a computer system to track each of the fire hydrants and how information is recorded.