It only takes a couple minutes to check each fire hydrant, but since there are more than 1,000 in the city of Hays, the process of doing a flow test on each one will take the entire month of March, and then some.
“March starts the busy season,” said Hays Fire Department Chief Ryan Hagans. “Each year we go around to every hydrant and perform a flow test, it measures the true available amount of water.”
Firefighters will be testing hydrants into early April, weather permitting, Hagans said. Each hydrant takes a couple minutes, with a small release of water that will run down the curb and find a storm drain.
“We’ll start March 1, Monday through Friday, depending on the weather,” Hagans said. “We don’t want to make more problems for the public and create ice rinks.”
The department’s 22 uniformed firefighters, working their normal shifts, are assigned an area of town to complete. In testing the hydrants each year, the department will usually find one or two that need repair.
In residential neighborhoods, the city has a fire hydrant about every 500 to 600 feet, some further or closer, depending on the area. Some are brand new, others are weeks or months old, and some may be 50 years old or more.
But not every hydrant flows the same, which is obvious from the color of the top or the “bonnet” of the hydrant, said Hagans.
A red bonnet means the hydrant doesn’t flow much, under 500 gallons a minute. An orange bonnet means it flows 500 to 999 gallons a minute. Green ones flow 1,000 to 1,499 gallons a minute, and blue ones flow the most, 1,500 gallons a minute or more.
The size of the water main, for the most part, determines the flow.
“The larger the pipe, the more water can flow through it,” said Hagans.
A red-topped hydrant, usually in the older parts of town, could be on a four-inch main. Hydrants that flow more water are probably on a six- to eight-inch main. However, crusting on the inside of the pipe, or valving or elbows, can also slow the flow, he said.
“The city is very aggressively trying to replace the four-inch mains,” said Hagans.
Looking at a map of waterline in his office, Hays Water Resources Director Jeff Crispin says he sees lines in the city that go back as far as the 1940s. There are typically four-inch lines in the older part of the city.
“The old lines are ductile iron or cast iron-type lines,” Crispin said, and typically they are manufactured with a seam, which can fail. The city replaces all of them it can with an eight-inch type of PVC that resists corrosion and is cheaper to buy.
“If it’s an old four-inch waterline installed many many years ago, we’d want to replace those with new lines,” Crispin said. Most failures and breaks in lines are non-PVC ones, he said.
“We don’t install the four-inch line anymore, most of the time it’s the eight-inch line,” Crispin said.
Most recently, during the $2.4 million reconstruction of Allen Street in 2018, crews replaced the old four-inch line with new eight-inch capacity line from 24th and Vine streets to Eighth Street, Crispin said.
A few years ago, the waterline on Oak Street was upsized from 20th to 26th streets.
Whenever there are street repairs or reconstruction planned, Crispin said his department works with Public Works to see if the waterline should also be replaced while the ground is exposed.
The 2019 city budget includes waterline replacement on Ash Street near Lewis Field Stadium, on Milner Street, from Fifth to Eighth streets, and on Sixth Street, from Pine to the Montgomery Ditch. Other waterline replacement projects are budgeted for every year through 2023, Crispin said.
By knowing the potential for each main, firefighters know how much hose and which hydrants to use when they respond to a call.
“We carry plenty of hose to utilize the better hydrants,” Hagans said.
Firefighters testing the hydrants helps the water department too, Crispin said, including finding which hydrants are defective, but in other ways too.
“When they do fire hydrant testing, they’re also helping us by flushing the lines, flushing out sediment,” he said. “They do it in a systematic pattern, working away from the water plant, and flushing sediment out of the line. So the farther ares of the system are the last ones they test.”