Hydrant Snorkel

By Scott Freeman

Fire suppression in “snow country” is more demanding and dangerous than anywhere else because of slick, dark roads that lead to five times the call ratio compared with nonsnow and ice areas.

Fire hydrants in snow country present unique challenges. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards require hydrants every 1,000 feet for buildings of less than 3,600 square feet, and the duration of water flow must be two hours or more. The first-arriving fire apparatus must establish water flow within four minutes. How do you keep the hydrant accessible all the time when a common snowstorm can dump five feet of snow in a 48-hour period?

Then there are the types of snow: heavy and full of water; light like in Valdez, Alaska; or the kind snowplows make-crushed snow and ice or what some call concrete snow. The latter is the greatest eraser of all your shovel work. After a long day of digging out hydrants, the snow plow goes by, and now you know you have been shoveling just for show-and-tell to the public.

The Hydrant Snorkel attaches directly to the steamer port
The Hydrant Snorkel attaches directly to the
steamer port. The two side ports are left
unaffected. The extended wrench comes straight
off the hydrant nut and turns exactly the same
way. The Storz fitting attaches directly to the
supply line. (Photos courtesy of Hydrant
Snorkel, LLC.)

Questions around why, how, and at what cost firefighters dig out hydrants come to mind. The public thinks the fire department is responsible for clearing fire hydrants. Let’s crunch the numbers invested on an annual basis. The average paid firefighter makes about $45,000 a year plus benefits, or $38 an hour. On average, it takes 20 minutes to dig and move to the next hydrant. Three hydrants per hour times eight hours equals 21 hydrants per firefighter per day for $304 (taking breaks and lunch into account). South Lake Tahoe, California, has 840 fire hydrants. That’s 40 days and $12,160 to dig fire hydrants just once. In most locations, the snow comes and goes like the tide. One week you could have five feet of snow and the next week 12 inches. This brutal dance goes on for six months or more. To dig out all the fire hydrants in South Lake Tahoe twice a month for six months, it would cost $145,920. That is still not providing 24/7 hydrant availability. That is just 12 times in six months. Keep in mind with budget cutbacks comes limited staffing. So, the solution to quick response times to a medical, car wreck, or fire call is to have the squad, medical unit, or fire apparatus with them all day out in the cold.

ORIGIN

The idea of having access to more water came after the Hoodland Fire District #74 in Welches, Oregon, used its apparatus’s 500 to 1,000 gallons of water while waiting for water tenders to arrive at multiple incidents. Being a mixed department meant that water shuttles could take 15 minutes to show up, depending on qualified operator availability. The district had to plan on using a quick attack blitz or go defensive. With the Hydrant Snorkel, it can now lay in year round and flow at whatever gallons per minute (gpm) a hydrant can supply.

The snorkel allows fire officers to make the correct choice for how to fight the fire. Knowing that it is not allowing the weather to change its water supply allows room to concentrate on other aspects of the fire attack like arriving safe and setting up the scene.

Hoodland Fire, like many small-town departments around this country, likes to win. And, there is always one person, in Hoodland’s case Lieutenant (Ret.) John Creel, who if left to his own devices will come up with a big win. Creel’s patented Hydrant Snorkel has been in use now for more than 15 years in the heat of the battle in areas where it is not uncommon for snow to be far deeper than five feet. Creel saw a need and started making prototypes. The first one worked just fine, but he kept tinkering with it until he felt it was perfect.

The first goal was to keep it simple; next was to have water flowing in the same amount of time during the winter as summer. He also wanted to be able to adjust the height of the Hydrant Snorkel without digging to accommodate the ever changing height of the snow. The Hydrant Snorkel has a discharge port every two feet, six inches, with access to the hydrant nut at the same location as the ports. Creel designed the Hydrant Snorkel to be ready in less than 90 seconds.

All firefighters need is the two- or four-foot extension to elevate the hydrant to a new desired height
All firefighters need is the two- or four-foot
extension to elevate the hydrant to a new desired
height. The unit is designed to be ready in less
than 90 seconds.

Deployment

The end product mimics the street hydrant so closely that firefighters can figure it out within 30 seconds-even without having seen it before. The Hydrant Snorkel attaches directly to the steamer port. The two side ports are left unaffected. The extended wrench comes straight off the hydrant nut and turns exactly the same way. The Storz fitting attaches directly to the supply line. The end product can withstand continual passes by snow plows and grinders, and snow can pile up all winter. The more snow piled around the snorkel, the easier it is to use. The limit to the height of the snorkel is the top of a department’s tallest truck. The snow bank can be 10 feet tall.

Manufacturer

The Kochek Company has been manufacturing this product for Hydrant Snorkel, LLC, for the past three years. The company has also helped design related items and new models of the Hydrant Snorkel to make it more universal for areas that receive less snow.

FEMA AFG and Fireman’s Fund grants are available for the purchase of Hydrant Snorkel.


SCOTT FREEMAN is a 12-year veteran of the fire service and heads the sales and marketing department at Hydrant Snorkel, LLC.

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