When a fire blazes, fast response time is essential to preventing major damage. Firefighters speed to the scene of the fire with fire engines that hold thousands of litres of water. However, since many fire hoses can deliver nearly 1,000 litres per minute, a fire engine’s water supply depletes quickly.
The limitation of a fire engine’s water supply means fire hydrants must supply most of the water for putting out major fires. Because hydrants are so important in fighting fires, they need to remain in optimum operating condition at all times.
The National Fire Code of Canada, various provincial and municipal fire codes, and hydrant manufacturers provide guidelines for how to inspect and maintain fire hydrants. These guidelines protect people and property by ensuring that fire hydrants stay in good working order.
Public and Private Fire Hydrants
Many fire hydrants in Canada are on public land. Local governments are responsible for maintaining public fire hydrants. That includes arranging for regular inspections and keeping these hydrants free from obstructions.
What about fire hydrants on private land? In these cases, the hydrants are considered private fire hydrants. Landowners with hydrants on their property are responsible for taking care of these private hydrants.
Fire safety companies in each Canadian province and territory specialize in checking fire hydrants. If you own a private hydrant, you can hire one of these services to inspect your fire hydrants, but you should still be aware of the steps and procedures required in an inspection.
How Often Do Fire Hydrants Require Inspection?
The National Fire Code of Canada requires that fire hydrants be inspected at least twice a year. No more than six months can pass between inspections.
Because of cold winter temperatures, these inspections are best performed in the spring and the fall. Usually the inspection in the spring is a visual inspection, and the fall inspection is a more thorough maintenance inspection.
Private landowners should keep a record of each fire hydrant inspection. These records provide proof of inspection for the fire commissioner, a provincial inspector, or another authority with jurisdiction.
What Happens at Each Inspection?
No matter which type of inspection is taking place, the fire codes in each area require that each inspection include certain steps. In British Columbia, for example, inspectors need to examine the following parts for wear, rust, or obstruction during each inspection:
- Caps, including cap threads
- Main valves
- Drain valves
- All O-ring seals/gaskets
The inspector determines if any parts need to be cleaned, repaired, or replaced.
The purpose of a visual inspection is to check the fire hydrant for any visible damage that may interfere with its proper function. A visual inspection also identifies any vandalism which may need to be corrected.
During a visual inspection, the inspector tests the hydrant to make sure it fills up, releases water, and drains. If the inspector encounters any problems during these steps, closer inspection is necessary. This may involve looking for obstructions, removing parts for closer examination, or replacing damaged parts.
If a hydrant is on the recommended spring and fall inspection schedule, summer is the easiest time of year to maintain a fire hydrant. During summer, the main concern is maintaining clearance.
There should always be at least two metres of clearance on all sides of a hydrant. This clearance involves more than preventing just cars from parking in front of a hydrant. No objects or plants should block access to a hydrant or its valves.
The inspection in the fall should include all the steps performed in a visual inspection, along with several other steps. A fall inspection begins with shutting off water access to the fire hydrant. This allows the inspector to remove the hydrant’s valves and other internal parts for up-close examination.
The inspector should check all parts, paying particular attention to the following parts:
Slide Gate Design:
- Operating spindle
- Threads on the main gate screw
- Rubber on the main gate
- Rubber on the drip valve
- Revolving nut
- Main valve assembly
- Drain components
The inspector replaces any damaged parts, lubricates all moving parts, and puts the hydrant back together. Then the inspector can proceed with the steps of a basic visual inspection.
At least once a year, a fire hydrant should undergo a complete flushing. During this process, the inspector completely opens the fire hydrant’s main valve and outlet valves, allowing water to flow through them. When the water runs clear, the annual flushing is complete and the inspector can turn off the water and drain the hydrant.
Winter—Freezing and Snow Clearance
During the winter, fire hydrants have two main problems. The first is freezing. Fire hydrants used in Canada are designed to resist freezing damage. A maintenance inspection in the fall is any fire hydrant’s best protection against winter freezing.
Second, fire hydrants must stay clear of snow. If firefighters arrive on scene and cannot locate a hydrant because it’s covered with snow, they lose vital fire-fighting time. After each major snowfall, private and public hydrants should be cleared of snowfall so they are easy to locate.
Year-Round Fire Hydrant Maintenance
Fire hydrants are not complex modern machines; they are easy to keep in good condition throughout the year with these maintenance basics. If you are responsible for a public or private fire hydrant, make sure to have it inspected and keep it clear of obstructions.
For more detailed information about how to inspect a fire hydrant, read our helpful fire hydrant maintenance guides here.