Seeley Swan Pathfinder
December 24, 1998
The Seeley Lake Fire District and the Seeley Lake Water District have discussed this matter over the past couple of years, and would like to add some background and information to last week's article about the adopt-a hydrant program.
We're working together to try to solve a problem, and the community working together on this issue is the only way to solve it without creating a position and approving additional taxes to pay for that position.
As stated in an article last year in the Pathfinder, several people have had questions about who is responsible for keeping the fire hydrants free of snow during the winter months. The answer is that nobody is legally responsible, which leaves us with the bottom line that everyone needs to be responsible, according to Deputy County Attorney Mike Sehestedt, who is also the attorney for the Fire District.
"We have the same issue here in Missoula," Sehestedt said. "The best practice is to not say this is somebody else's responsibility. It's all of our problem."
Seeley Lake Water District Manager Paul Torok said that we all have some interest in the hydrants, and need to work together to solve the problem.
Fire Chief Jim White said that this is a serious subject, and it's something the public needs to take as a serious matter. While the volunteer firefighters are ready for the worst case scenario such as a buried hydrant, if the hydrants are kept clear of snow it saves valuable time and would allow the firefighters who would be digging to help fight the fires which could help save lives and property.
We think the Community Council deserves a lot credit for taking a concern such as public safety seriously and coming up with an option that is workable and will not cost the taxpayers any additional money.
Before discussing the adopt-hydrant option further, here are a few more facts about the issue.
Plowing buries many of the hydrants during the winter, which includes both County plows and private plows. While Missoula County Surveyor Horace Brown has said that the plow operators do not have time to keep the hydrants clear and that many will be plowed under, private plowers should be held accountable if they are burying hydrants. If a citizen sees someone plowing snow over a hydrant, please either speak to them or submit a complaint to the Council, Fire or Water districts.
Brown has said that when we have a lot of snow, they don't have time to clean them out and it's hard not to plow them in. When they get caught up, he said they try to go back and clear them, but they are not required to do it.
The hydrants are installed by the Water District according to State and National Fire Protection Association Standards. Torok also maintains the hydrants each year when he uses them to flush the main lines.
The Fire District marks the hydrants with red steel posts so that they can be located easily. Upon request, the Water District will also help locate hydrants for the Fire Department or local residents.
Last year some of the volunteer firefighters helped clear many of the hydrants, and when the County employees were caught up on plowing, they helped clear some of them. Some property owners helped keep the hydrant near their homes clear, and the Seeley Swan High School Senior Priority class cleared several.
There are other solutions to the snow-covered hydrants, but it will either take money or cooperation.
Residents could request a vote for a levy to hire an employee to keep the hydrants clear of snow. It takes approximately 30 minutes to dig out a hydrant. There are 67 hydrants. The plows were out 60 days last year. A quick dollar estimate with 2,000 labor hours ($5.50/hour) would be around $11,000 each year. This does not include transportation or other costs of having an employee.
The option before us now is a community-based option that will not add additional taxes, and that is the adopt-a-hydrant program. Each hydrant will be designated as covering a certain area, and residents within that area could volunteer for that hydrant.
Where there are numerous houses in a given area, the shoveling could be divvied up, and no one resident would have to take care of it all winter. If you know of an area with elderly people who are not able to shovel snow, you could volunteer for their area.
If residents are willing, during the summer months when they are out with their weed-eater, the vegetation could be cleared.
The hydrants should have a 3-foot clearance all the way around them as well a path from the hydrant to the existing road.
If a problem is detected with one of the hydrants, a quick call can be made to the Fire District at 677-2400, or the Water District at 677-2559.
Pat Swan Smith volunteered to keep a map of the hydrants and the names of those volunteering to adopt a hydrant at the fire hall.
We hope that the residents will seriously consider helping with this program. We would also like to invite any teenagers who would like to pitch in and help their community to stop by or call. This is a group effort option. If you are interested in helping or just have questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact Pat at 677-2400 or stop by the fire hall Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon.
Seeley Lake Water Manager Paul Torok
Seeley Lake Fire Chief Jim White