Misuse leads to frozen, inoperable hydrants

Contractors use fire hydrants to get water.
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The snow is gone and the rain will hold off for a while, but there is another weather problem threatening us tonight.

The bitter cold can lead to frozen fire hydrants if crews don't shut off the water flow, making them useless if a fire breaks out in your neighborhood.

Follow the hose laid along the street, it leads right back to a fire hydrant. Monday morning, to get the water flowing, a construction company using an Indianapolis hydrant had to thaw it out with a space heater. Hundreds of companies rent meters from the water company and pay for what they use from hydrants.

The trouble starts when they are done.

"That right there is why you have hydrants that leak," said Matt Jewell of KMP Hydrant Services.

Just like your garden hose, if the water is not turned off completely, your pipes freeze. It is the same with hydrants. When Jewell is not fixing and inspecting hydrants for the company he helped start, he is hooking up a hose to one as a firefighter. More than once, he has come across a frozen hydrant.

Jewell keeps a stack of old, worn out seals taken from fire hydrants, which means water is flowing right into the hydrant. When water seeps up in the hydrant, they freeze. Frozen hydrants have been a source of trouble for fire departments for years.

When the Texas Roadhouse restaurant on North Shadeland Avenue burned to the ground, all the fire hydrants within four blocks were frozen. The owner of Texas Roadhouse sued the water company, claiming that the hydrants froze because of misuse. The water company won the lawsuit, but has designated 75 hydrants for use by contractors. They own and maintain more than 37,000 hydrants.

"So therefore, we know to continually check those hydrants to make sure they are okay," said Mike Elliot of Citizens Water.

Contractors that are using hydrants must use those marked with a dark blue cap. Citizens Water is in the middle of an aggressive replacement program of aging hydrants. There are several in Marion County approaching 40 years of service.