Preserving the Environment

Extreme Makeover: Fire Hydrant Edition

June 11, 2014
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Extreme Makeover: Fire Hydrant Edition
Wally Gobetz via Flickr Creative Commons
The iconic, squatty, red structure receives a fashionable update.

Most of us probably take those little red, roadside structures for granted. But if there’s ever a fire, you better believe that a hydrant becomes a V.I.T. — very important thing.

Perhaps surprising, however, is that non-functioning fire hydrants are a bigger problem than most people know, according to retired New York City firefighter George Sigelakis. It happens, “all the time. It’s always in the back of our minds.” Sigelakis served as a firefighter for 15 years before retiring in 2000.

And it’s true. The news is filled with stories nationwide of non-working hydrants — on Long Island, a frozen hydrant hampered firefighters this past January; last year, a baby girl died in a Detroit fire when firemen couldn’t find a working hydrant for at least 15 minutes. And this month, a report from Atlanta found that many of their city’s fire hydrants are nonfunctioning as well.

Which is why Sigelakis wants to help. After 20 years of researching and developing prototypes, his Sigelock Spartan is the best and final version he’s created.

How did Sigelakis come up with his design? He began with why fire hydrants broke in the first place — the cast iron that they were constructed of made them susceptible to erosion and cracks, leaks, and freezing.

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While it make look a little funny, the newly designed fire hydrant is safer than the original. It’s constructed of a mix of stainless steel and ductile iron — both of which are unaffected by corrosion — and it has an exterior coating that further prevents rust. Additionally, the hydrant’s lock can only be opened with a special tool, preventing it from being used as a sprinkler by residents wanting a little summer fun, which is not advised. (At full pressure, hydrants can pump out more than 1,000 gallons of water per minute.) And the inside parts were also redesigned to keep water from freezing in the winter, too.

According to Fast Company, “This will last 200 years maintenance free,” Sigelakis boasts. All the requirements for certification were met when tested by Underwriters Laboratories, which tests products for public safety. In fact, the Spartan fire hydrant is the first and only hydrant to receive a new UL certification, “264B” confirming its resistance to tampering.

The first test case for these new hydrants took place in 2012 in Sigelakis’s home town of Long Beach, New York. After Hurricane Sandy flooded the area with several feet of saltwater, the hydrant still looked great and it “worked like the first day we put it in,” said Chris Windle, superintendent of the Long Beach Water District.

Windle has replaced 90 conventional hydrants with the new Sigelakis ones. By Christmas, he hopes to have 130 more, which isn’t the easiest thing to do because each Spartan is about 20 percent more expensive than the conventional hydrant.

Despite the initial cost of $2,700 each, these new fire hydrants require substantially less maintenance and upkeep. Meaning that they could be a money-saving investment for communities nationwide — including yours.

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