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Snow, ice create problems for hydrants, gas meters

The Jamestown Fire Department is asking people to clear the snow and ice around fire hydrants in Jamestown. Chris Olson / The Sun

With winter storms that dumped almost every known form of precipitation on Jamestown and most of North Dakota, the Jamestown Fire Department is asking residents to keep fire hydrants and secondary exits to buildings clear of snow and ice.

During storms at the end of December, Jamestown received snow and ice that covered almost all of the 1,000 or so fire hydrants in Jamestown, said Jim Reuther, Jamestown fire chief.

Reuther said for the most part people in Jamestown keep the fire hydrants near their houses clear.

"I've driven around town. There are a lot (of hydrants) that have been dug out already," he said. "The community does a good job of taking care of the fire hydrants."

Other North Dakota communities, such as Bismarck, have received a lot more snow, and keeping hydrants clear there is a challenge, Reuther said. He said he talked with the Bismarck fire chief, who said there are corners where fire hydrants are buried under 6 feet of snow.

Reuther said the fire department keeps shovels in fire trucks in case firefighters need to dig out a fire hydrant near a fire scene.

"The stuff (snow and ice) is pretty hard," he said. "We just about have to ax it out (chip away at the ice and snow) or use spades to get access to the hydrant."

The delay in keeping a steady water supply going could impact the firefighting effort, Reuther said. He said a fire engine carries enough water for about 3 1/2 minutes of firefighting. When a hydrant is buried under snow, time that could be spent putting a fire out are spent clearing out snow and ice around a hydrant.

Reuther said another problem that develops in the winter is keeping secondary exits in buildings open. He said the rain that turned to ice on Christmas Day in Jamestown and the additional snow that fell on that ice since has created a challenge in keeping those secondary exits clear.

"There are some places in town that only have two exits," Reuther said. "If the back one is blocked and say, for instance, a car slides into the front one. How are people going to get out of the building?"

Reuther said people should inspect furnace vents and areas around the them to make sure there is no ice or snow buildup that would prevent the flow of air into the vents.

Mark Hanson, Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. spokesman, said it's important that people keep the gas meters for their homes and/or businesses free of snow and ice. The first problem is the gas meter has a relief valve on the bottom. Hanson said if the relief valve becomes clogged with snow or ice, the flow of natural gas can be impacted.

Another possible problem with a gas meter being buried is weight, he said.

"Our systems are built to withstand some weight," he said. "But, if there is too much snow or ice, there could be a small break in the pipe and then there is a gas leak."

Hanson said if residents smell gas in their homes or businesses, they should call 911 and call their utility company.

Chris Olson

Hometown: Traverse City, MI College: Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University

(701) 952-8454