Imagine firefighters responding to a house fire, but soon after they begin attacking the blaze, the hoses run dry.
Denice Dickens, Prince George’s County 7th Battalion chief, said it’s not an unheard-of scenario in the southern parts of the county, so the fire/EMS department is getting creative to maintain a water supply. Rural portions of the county do not have a public water and sewer system — homes rely on individual septic systems — so there are no fire hydrants.
The solution is what is known as “dry hydrants,” piping and connectors placed in ponds to transfer water to fire engines and water tankers, Dickens said. Currently, apparatus must get water from hydrants in developed areas or previously installed underground water tanks, or firefighters must call on other jurisdictions for water supply assistance, she said.
Firefighters from the Baden Volunteer Fire/EMS Department, which services a rural area, installed in October a dry hydrant at a privately owned pond at P.A. Bowen Farmstead on Doctor Bowen Road in Brandywine, making it the county’s sixth dry hydrant. It cost the county $550 to purchase a specific adapter, as the pipes were donated and volunteer firefighters from Baden completed the installation. Dickens said the hydrants on average cost $6,000, but much of that expense has been paid for through grants and donations.
Dickens said she now is looking for more water sources and asking residents in south county to offer up the use of their ponds.
Mike Haigwood, Bowen’s farm manager, said he was pleased to allow the fire department to use the farm’s pond.
“It’s an asset on the property and for the local community,” Haigwood said. “We had to make some adjustments for where they were going to park their apparatus and had to adjust the gates so they can get to it, but that’s minute compared to the benefits we and the community are going to receive.”
Haigwood said the farm and land owners were not paid to allow the department to use the pond, which was created mainly for aesthetics. He said the pond is equipped with an artesian well, which uses piping to bring underground water to the surface, so the pond will refill itself if water is taken out.
Dickens said the response-time standard for Prince George’s established by the county’s public safety master plan is seven minutes in developed areas and nine minutes in rural environments. Overall, the county fire/EMS department meets that standard in both types of areas just 40 percent of the time, fire officials have said, and Dickens said sometimes the response time can hit 10 minutes or longer in very rural areas such as Baden and Eagle Harbor, located at the southernmost part of the county.
Dickens said that given the large size of some southern county homes, firefighters may use up to 500 gallons of water per minute when attempting to extinguish a fire. She said a fire engine holds 700 gallons of water and a water tanker, of which the county has five, holds 3,000 gallons. The county’s water tankers all are used for the southern areas.
“The biggest thing is that the closer we can have these ponds to houses, the faster we can get the water turned around to there,” she said. “Right now, we have to send a tanker out to a location to get water and bring it all back, so it could take 15 to 20 minutes to get all the way back just to get water to the fire.”
Dickens said she would like to see at least 50 dry hydrants in the rural tier so the time needed to get more water to a fire is cut down. The county’s first dry hydrant was installed roughly four years ago, Dickens said.
County fire officials are asking homeowners willing to allow firefighters to use their ponds for dry hydrants to contact the fire department.
Fire Chief Marc Bashoor applauded the work of the Baden firefighters and other firefighters seeking alternative water supplies to improve the response to fires.
“The work ethic and dedication of our firefighters to help ensure an adequate water supply, a basic necessity of firefighting, is commendable and demonstrates the high level of commitment in saving lives and protective properties in these communities by our members,” he said.