ATHENS, GA – They’re on every corner…ready when you need them: fire hydrants. The Athens-Clarke County public utilities department is doing everything it can to keep it that way. Firefighters in Hall County were unable to put a fire out in Hall County because the hydrant they needed was frozen. But workers in Athens say this situation is very unlikely.

The ACC water and fire departments have a system in place to make sure there is no sitting water in the hydrants. It’s called a dry-barrel hydrant, where the water pipe sits four feet underground and the barrel is empty until it’s needed. This means the water won’t freeze.

“We typically don’t have very many problems because of the quantity and the spacing of our hydrants and we’re well covered, compared to most counties,” says the assistant Chief of the Fire Department, Kyle Hendrix.

Every hydrant is touched at least twice a year. All 6,000 of the fire hydrants in Athens are inspected annually. They are also maintained every day by both the Fire Department and the Public Utilities department. In Athens, there is a team just for hydrant maintenance. With such a vast system, the cold isn’t causing any problems here.

An engineer with the ACC Public Utilities department, Nathan Hester, says they are very proactive about maintaining the hydrants. The first priority is because of fire safety, and the second, he says, is because of cost. He also says that the better the hydrant maintenance system, the lower house insurance rates will be. Thus, Athens rates are lower than in Oconee County, for example.

Chad Bridges is a maintenance supervisor for ACC Public Utilities. He’s never seen a hydrant freeze before. “No, not one froze up. We don’t usually get temperatures…the last two weeks are the coldest temperatures we’ve had for a long time,” he says.

Hendrix and Bridges both agree that the threat of a frozen hydrant is nothing to worry about. “No, no dry barrel is no problem at all,” Bridges adds.

Hendrix says our public utilities department is something to be proud of, since 98% of homes in Athens have a hydrant within 1,000 feet of the home. The department has been expanding for decades, he says.

If the impossible happens and your hydrant did freeze, there is another one just 1,000 feet in the other direction.“That can make a huge difference…that we don’t have to devote much time to getting a water source to extinguish a fire when we’ve got a hydrant we can immediately connect to with a positive water source, under pressure,” says Hendrix. In the case of Hall County, the hydrant was in a rural area, and there wasn’t another hydrant nearby. Those firefighters, however, are prepared for that situation, says Joey Leverette, a systems manager for the Gainesville/Hall County water department.

On a lighter note, Bridges says his workers are usually dealing with a very different hydrant problem: “People running over them…drinking and driving and running into fire hydrants.”

Alexa Knowles, reporting.


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