NEWS

What color should fire hydrants be?

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Brian and Tammy Houpt painted their hydrant fire engine red and green, with the blessing of Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority. Other hydrants in town are shades of red with an accent of blue, tan, green, more red or even orange, the latter on Baltimore Street and Center Square. The colors mean something.

Seemingly invisible because most people aren't looking for them, the fire hydrants belonging to Greencastle Area Franklin County Water Authority (GAFCWA) are actually all over the place, and in many colors. They are the source of water to fight fires, but now are also a source of surprise in GAFCWA treatment of a customer.

One couple was notified in mid July that the hydrant on their property was the wrong color. It was burgundy, to match the shutters of Brian and Tammy Houpt's Williamsport Pike home. The top and caps were tan like their siding. They had two weeks, said the certified letter from GAFCWA, to paint the hydrant red and green. A photograph of their home with the violating hydrant stationed in the creatively landscaped front yard was included.

Brian Houpt followed up on the matter. Someone had contacted the borough and verbally complained about the hydrant, he was told by borough- and GAFCWA manager Susan Armstrong. With the evidence of an accompanying photo, she dispatched the notification letter, which also went to the Greencastle public works superintendent, the fire chief and the police chief.

Houpt would have understood someone getting raised eyebrows if the colors were new, but he had painted the offending structure seven years ago. Why was it a problem now?

And he started to notice all of those other hydrants around the borough and Antrim Township. They were colorful — red, burgundy, maroon, with green, tan, red and even orange caps.

"Why am I being singled out?" he wondered.

He and his wife were even more surprised when they discovered the Borough of Waynesboro held an annual contest in which people painted the downtown hydrants with all sorts of designs.

The couple turned down GAFCWA's offer to send a crew out to paint the hydrant. They didn't want anyone tromping through their yard. After clarifying what shade of green (and told any would be fine), Tammy took care of the task.

"We painted it fire-engine red," said Brian. "But if the water authority is going to enforce me, why not everyone else?"

He also did not like the procedure of notification. If the complainer, allegedly a member of the Rescue Hose Company, had come to his door with the suggestion to repaint, he would have.

And he wanted to know who the person was. Greencastle Right-to-Know officer Ericka Faight said she would turn down his request to find out, because the complaint was only verbal, not written.

Greencastle's policy

Armstrong said her interpretation of the color of the Houpt fire hydrant was brown and beige, which blended in very nicely with their stone landscaping. But it was not clearly visible for fire companies. The letter asked that they return it to its primary colors.

It stated, “Fire companies look for the closest available hydrant and pressures found at that particular hydrant. Our local firefighters (then) can...note the pressure range. The colors provide a snapshot...of how it will perform once fire hoses are connected.”

Armstrong said the Houpts are the only people to be asked to repaint their hydrant in recent years. She did not know how many others were out of compliance. She was reluctant to give the name of the person who told her about the hydrant, cautious of privacy under Right-to-Know laws.

As for the color scheme, she took direction from professional sources, but agreed there was no hard and fast rule as to what they should be. Municipalities were allowed discretion on the colors of their hydrants.

Options

The American Water Works Association on the Pennsylvania DEP website recommends color schemes based on flow capacity. The body of the hydrant is always supposed to be chrome yellow. The tops and caps are to be: over 1,500 gallons per minute - blue; over 1,000 gpm, green; 500 to 1,000 gpm, yellow; and under 500 gpm, red.

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommendations are slightly different. The body is to be chrome yellow, but the colors based on descending capacity are blue, green, orange and red. Private hydrants should be all red.

The Houpt hydrant was of a higher capacity, said Armstrong.

Antrim Township also has a municipal authority. The Antrim Township Municipal Authority hydrants are located in the area of Cedarbook and they are all red, said public works director Carl Rundquist.

“It means fewer buckets of paint.”

Rescue Hose Company fire chief Kevin Barnes guessed that 80 percent of the 208 GAFCWA hydrants and 28 ATMA hydrants were painted the proper colors. While the barrels were not chrome yellow, as recommended by NFPA, they were red as approved by both municipalities. When the authorities conducted testing and maintenance, they frequently painted the caps to match the flow capacity, he noted.

And so, the hydrants in the area will continue to be of multiple colors, not necessarily meeting standards, unless someone files a complaint.