Back in June, Marlinton Fire Chief Herby Barlow addressed Marlinton Town Council about his concerns regarding the maintenance and testing plan of the town’s fire hydrants.
The town is required to do flow testing of the hydrants, as well as paint the hydrants using a specific color system based on the test results, but Barlow said it has been years since either has been done.
The Marlinton Volunteer Fire Department used to do the flow testing, but Barlow explained that it is the responsibility of the water company – in this case the Town of Marlinton – to maintain the hydrants and do the annual testing.
Now, more than a month later, and the situation remains the same. In a discussion with The Pocahontas Times, Barlow explained why the testing and maintenance of hydrants is so important – not just to the fire department, but to everyone within town limits.
The Town of Marlinton has 157 hydrants within its limits.
“The town hydrant system runs from the cemetery all the way up through Riverside,” Barlow said. “Up to the museum on that side. You’ve got a hydrant right above the house by Appalachian Sports on 219 and then that line stops. It comes across the river behind Burns Motor Freight, then covers Riverside. There are hydrants all the way up to the old Price’s body shop, and up and around Brownsburg and Brush Country.”
When the hydrants are tested, they are gauged by how many gallons of water they can handle. In order for the fire department to know the grade of the hydrants, the tops are painted following a color system. Blue is for hydrants that can handle 1,500 gallons and above per minute. Green is for 1,000 to 1,500 gpm, orange is 500 to 1,000, red is 500 or below and black means the hydrant is out of service.
“There are more green than there are blues,” Barlow said.
While fire hydrant maintenance is vital to the fire department, it is also beneficial to homeowners – for protection and insurance rates. The fire department is evaluated each year and receives an ISO – Insurance Services Office – rating. A perfect rating is nine.
The Marlinton Fire Department is rated four.
“We used to be a six,” Barlow said.
“If you have a fire hydrant within a thousand feet of your house, your insurance should be at a reduced rate,” he added.
The better the ISO rating, the more reduced the insurance costs.
The ISO rating test includes tests of the fire department’s equipment and trucks, as well as the hydrants.
Because there are hydrants in need of repair or replacement, Barlow said the trucks are loaded with extra line in case there is a proximity issue.
“In order to be a Class A engine, you have to have eight hundred feet of supply line, but we carry a thousand feet or more on all of our big trucks,” he said.
Those extra lines come in handy when there is a fire near a hydrant that is in disrepair or in an area without a hydrant.
“The hydrant at the [McClintic] library, for instance, was hit by a car years ago,” Barlow said. “The car had insurance. The insurance would have paid to replace that hydrant, but instead of waiting and doing that, they [the town] just did away with that particular hydrant.”
If there was a fire in that area, Barlow said the fire department would hook up to the hydrant the next block up, near the American Legion Hall.
Barlow said his main concern is that there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to work on the hydrants – whether it be flow testing and painting, or repairing and replacement.
In response to Barlow’s concerns, town council has entered an agreement with Thrasher Group to apply for a Critical Needs Grant through the state’s infrastructure council to replace 10 fire hydrants in town.
If/when the grant is awarded, the project will be put out to bid immediately and the Thrasher Group said it’s possible to have work start later this summer.