First, the good news: All of the decorative fire hydrants that fooled firefighters into hooking up to dry lines are gone.
Now, the bad news: In several parts of Payson, hydrants remain out of reach of fire trucks — while other areas have no hydrants at all.
Town and fire department officials say they are working to install new hydrants and improve water lines as soon as possible, but it will be years before the town can upgrade older areas to meet modern fire codes.
Detailing the fire hydrant network on a map, Fire Marshal Bob Lockhart said the town needs at least twice the current total of 850.
The current fire code requires a hydrant every 500 feet in residential areas. In many newer cities, hydrants are spaced every 300 feet, Lockhart said. However, in older sections of Payson, developed before the town’s incorporation in the 1970s, hydrants are spaced every 1,000 feet.
“We inherited the town like that,” Lockhart said. “We colonized and then came in and tried to set code to it.” Because of that, the town is made up of a hodgepodge of different-sized water lines and hydrants.
Since fire trucks carry two 500-foot hoses, in many neighborhoods, firefighters have to call in an extra truck with more hose, or the town’s tanker truck. At a house fire April 20 on East Phoenix Street, firefighters couldn’t reach the nearest working hydrant some 500 feet up the street street — but mistakenly tried to attach the hose to a “decorative” hydrant in a homeowner’s front yard, only to discover it wasn’t connected to a water line. Crews wasted precious minutes trying to find the real hydrant. Ultimately, they had to wait for another truck to arrive so they could connect to it because the nearest hydrant was another 500 feet away. Luckily, crews knocked down the fire in the mobile home with the water on the original engine.
“The fire department is aware of the issues and have extra hose and fire tenders for it,” said Public Works Director LaRon Garrett.
“They are managing the situation — is it the best, no— but we are improving it as we can.”
Because of this blaze, Lockhart scoured the town and had any remaining “decorative” hydrants removed or painted to avoid further confusion.
“All of the decorative hydrants have been dealt with,” he said.
The town’s public works department removed the hydrant on Phoenix Street because it is on an easement.
The Tonto Apache Tribe removed another fake on Ridge Street because it sits on tribal land.
Lockhart said he met with Tribal Chairman Ivan Smith and asked him to remove the hydrant and within two hours, a crew had removed it.
Another fake at Dr. Blackmore’s veterinary office on Main Street will be painted to avoid future confusion.
“I have only been here two and half years, so I don’t know why they were there,” Lockhart said. “Sometimes things go under the radar.”
Lockhart suggested that if anyone wants to place a hydrant on their property in the future, they place it away from the street and make it obvious.
“I would be very conservative, if it can be confused at all I would remove it,” he said. “If it is clearly on private property I would have no problem with it.”
While some homeowners like the look of a hydrant on their property, others would not be pleased to come home to a new hydrant taking up a corner of their yard, Lockhart said.
Alongside every road or street improvement project, the town is working to install new hydrants.
The latest project on McKamey Street included several blocks that were undergoing utility work, including a new sewer and water line. The public works department decided to install four hydrants at the same time. Previously, the street did not have a water line to feed hydrants.
Several other older sections of town that do have waterlines have only outdated 4-inch diameter pipes. Hydrants have a 5-inch opening so with only a 4-inch line feeding them, the pressure is low.
The town pays $3,500 for a new hydrant, but most new hydrants are put in with development and paid for by the developer, Garrett said.
“If a new development goes in, they pay for the hydrants.”
After a hydrant is installed, the fire department and town must maintain them. Several residents have wondered if the town is flushing the hydrants often enough.
Garrett said theoretically they should flush a hydrant every couple of years, but the town let that schedule slip to save money. Still, “I have never heard of a hydrant not working,” he said.
Because hydrants tie into the same water lines as homes, the only way they could fail is if the hydrant broke and the probability of that is low, Garrett said.
Lockhart said it’s possible for a hydrant to fail, but it is rare.
“Sometimes we test them (and) they fail to turn off,” not on, he said.
Fire Department crews at each station are scheduled to flush and maintain six hydrants every shift or 36 a month.
“We do them as often as possible,” Lockhart said. “All year long, we flush them, grease them, exercise the valves and paint them. It is not just a spit and shine polish.”
It takes a crew roughly one and a half hours to complete one hydrant and thousands of gallons of water is spewed onto the street.
Despite the headache to homeowners, Lockhart said maintenance is crucial.
“We have a good system in place, but it is not always perfect,” Garrett said.