As firefighters arrived at a mobile home fire in the Center Grove area last month, they jumped out of the engine and prepared to hook equipment to the nearest hydrant.
The owner of the mobile home community, Center Grove Estates, had not properly maintained the hydrant, and nowhere near enough water was coming out of it, White River Township Fire Chief Jeremy Pell said. The White River Township Fire Department was forced to use water off a tanker truck, causing a slight delay in fighting the fire.
More than 350 private hydrants are spread throughout the county and are generally found in apartment complexes, factories, warehouses and large shopping centers where there is typically no public road close enough to put a hydrant.
Private hydrants have to be inspected and maintained by the property owners so firefighters can quickly and easily connect to a water flow. While problems with private hydrants are rare, local fire departments have the ability to charge fines if rules are not followed.
For example, the owners of Center Grove Estates could face a fine if they don’t meet inspection requirements soon. But that is rare. The four largest fire departments in the county — Bargersville, Greenwood, Franklin and White River Township — do not recall issuing a fine due to poorly maintained private hydrants.
The hydrants at Center Grove Estates have needed to be inspected for months. In December, the fire department wrote an enforcement order for Center Grove Estates to have their hydrants inspected or face a daily $30 fine. Due to the cold weather this winter, they were given an extension until March 24, but with one stipulation: if the inspections are not completed by then, the fine will be retroactive to Dec. 4, White River Township fire marshal Michael Arany said.
If the hydrants are not inspected by Monday, the mobile home park could face a retroactive fine of $3,300, Arany said.
The property manager for Center Grove Estates could not be reached for comment.
The mobile home community has an old water main system that has too weak of a water flow to fight a fire. Depending on the results of the inspection, repairs may be needed to raise the water flow capacity, and the property has been ordered to have the caps on hydrants painted to signify how much water flow each can provide, Arany said.
Property owners in White River Township can be fined under a rule used to help force owners to keep their private hydrants properly maintained. The area has about 25 private hydrants, and issues are rare and almost always fixed immediately, Pell said.
Greenwood has about 200 private hydrants, while Franklin has about 100 and Bargersville has about 25. By comparison, Greenwood has thousands of public hydrants that are installed and maintained by the water company.
Private and public hydrants are easily distinguishable by color — private ones are usually red, and public ones will be yellow or turquoise — so the fire department will know who is responsible for maintenance. Oftentimes, the caps will be color-coded so firefighters know how much water pressure will come from the hydrant.
When a commercial building is built, the owners have to get approval for the type of hydrant they plan to install prior to final design and construction, according to state code. Those rules allow local fire departments to ensure they will be able to hook up to the water flow easily in case of an emergency.
Indiana Fire Code requires any hydrant to be inspected yearly, ensuring nothing is deteriorating. The water flow has to be tested, as well. Inspections of hydrants are not done by local fire departments. The owner of a private hydrant — an apartment complex, for example — has to arrange and pay for the inspections. Water companies own the public hydrants and are responsible for their inspections.
Inspectors are looking for caps on the hydrants that may rust, making it difficult to open and connect the water supply. Other hydrants may have such a weak water flow that they’re essentially useless in fighting a fire.
Greenwood requires proof that hydrants were inspected when they do yearly inspections of commercial buildings. Ninety-five percent of properties have completed hydrant inspections prior to the fire department conducting its own inspection of the building, said Tracy Rumble, lieutenant with the Greenwood Fire Department enforcement and investigations division.
Proof of an inspection will be requested in Bargersville if something appears wrong with a hydrant during an inspection of the building; or if the hydrant malfunctions on a run, Bargersville fire marshal Kevin Killinger said.
Oftentimes, problems with private hydrants are handled by calling the property owner, officials said. For example, the Clary Crossing property, located in Bargersville, initially installed the wrong type of hydrant, meaning the fire department would have to use adapters to hook up to the water supply. Killinger contacted the property owners and they quickly installed adapters for the hydrant, allowing firefighters in Bargersville to hook their hoses to the hydrant without needing any extra equipment.
Property owners will typically fix problems quickly; otherwise they could face issues with their insurance companies, such as rate hikes or having their coverage dropped, Killinger said.
“Our main objective is to get a solution,” Killinger said. “Usually we can get more progress from dealing straight with the owner. We can also deal with the insurance company because they usually have pretty good pull if they find out their fire protection system is deficient.”