by Jonathan Copsey / Appen Newspapers
Milton – There are about 3,000 fire hydrants in the city of Milton. And it is Lt. Bruce Borders' job to make sure they all get inspected throughout the year.
A 38-year veteran firefighter, Borders organizes the Milton Fire Department's biannual check on the city's fire hydrants. In both the spring and the fall, the entire department spends two or three weeks checking each of the hydrants to make sure they work properly and have no problems.
Borders started his career in fire fighting when he was on summer break from college, working a summer job at what is now MARTA.
"I saw a fire across the street," said Borders. "Watching those guys fight that fire was amazing. It looked like fun."
It turned out a friend of his was a firefighter part-time. He suggested that Borders try out for an open position with the department. He did. Thus, began a lifetime career that took Borders through the Atlanta and Cherokee County fire departments before bringing him to Milton.
So how do you check a hydrant, anyway? The firefighter checks for leaks and water pressure, looks for signs of damage, and then flushes the hydrant to loosen any particles or sediment out from the pipe. This debris builds up throughout the year. If there's no problem found, the hydrant is given a lick of silver, reflective paint.
If there is a problem, the owner is contacted. Fulton County owns the vast majority of hydrants. The county's water authority handles all public hydrant repairs in the county. If a hydrant is leaking or needs repairs, the county will organize a replacement.
With the size of the crew used and budget cuts, Borders says it takes the county about six months to complete the repairs. He says it is very rare for a hydrant to be broken to the point of being inoperable, such as if a vehicle hits it. Those, the county fixes very quickly.
While being without a working fire hydrant for up to six months may sound scary, Borders isn't worried; there are plenty of fallbacks, the simplest of which is that, for most residents, there's another hydrant just a few hundred yards down the road. Failing that, many of the fire trucks carry water with them to calls.
"[A broken hydrant] makes a lot more work for us, but generally, a hydrant is close enough," Borders said.
Even so, a broken hydrant does not mean it cannot be used. Leaking or low-pressure hydrants can still be used to fight fires.
"They rarely break to the point where we can't use them," Borders said.
For those broken hydrants not owned by Fulton County or the city, the owners are notified and expected to fix them at their own expense. These are typically homeowners' associations or businesses.
A word of helpful advice from Borders: many people try to hide hydrants that are in their yards from view by placing bushes or plants around them, thinking them unsightly. This is a bad idea. If you can't see a hydrant from the road, neither can a firefighter who's looking for a place to hook up his water hose when your house is on fire.
"When you're landscaping your yard, you need to keep access open to the hydrant, and it has to be visible from the street," said Borders. "And please don't put a sticker bush near it."