Why frozen fire hydrants are more common than you think

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Winter brings icy roads and frigid temperatures to West Michigan every year. Crews with the city of Muskegon said another thing they encounter each winter is frozen fire hydrants.

Mike Armstrong has been working for the city of Muskegon for more than 17 years. In the fall, he and his co-workers drain more than 1,000 fire hydrants throughout the city. The goal: prevent freezing.

Armstrong said they do everything they can to make sure the hydrants don’t freeze up in the winter, slowing firefighters during an emergency, but that sometimes water does slips through the cracks.

“It freezes around the stem that goes down in the ground, so you can’t turn it. Or you can’t get the cap off because it’s frozen shut,” Armstrong said.

That’s what Muskegon firefighters saw on Sunday. While fighting a house fire on Bourdon Street, firefighters found that two nearby fire hydrants were frozen.

“If we do encounter one that is frozen, we immediately are looking for another one and hopefully by then we have other crews on, we can lay in from another hydrant and keep working towards getting some more water towards the fire,” Muskegon Public Safety Director Timothy Kozal said.

One injured in house fire in Muskegon

The two frozen fire hydrants were thawed Monday by Armstrong’s crew.

City workers thaw a fire hydrant in Muskegon on Jan. 22, 2024.
City workers thaw a fire hydrant in Muskegon on Jan. 22, 2024.
City workers thaw a fire hydrant in Muskegon on Jan. 22, 2024.
City workers thaw a fire hydrant in Muskegon on Jan. 22, 2024.
City workers thaw a fire hydrant in Muskegon on Jan. 22, 2024.
City workers thaw a fire hydrant in Muskegon on Jan. 22, 2024.

Frozen hydrants are not the only problem that firefighters face in the field. Colder temperatures can cause the water that firefighters use to freeze on the ground. That can cause icy and slippery conditions as they try to navigate the scene. Large amounts of snow can also make it harder for firefighters to access fire hydrants.

The city of Grand Rapids created a program called Adopt A Hydrant to address the issue of snow burying hydrants. Anyone in the city can sign up and select a fire hydrant. They will then be responsible for checking on, clearing snow off and mowing around it.

“The sooner, the quicker that the fire department can get to the hydrant and get on it, the better they are to respond in terms of potentially saving a house or preventing catastrophic damage to a property,” Wayne Jernberg, the water system manager for the city of Grand Rapids, said.

The city of Muskegon is also asking residents to help maintain fire hydrants in their neighborhoods by shoveling around them. If you see something leaking, report it to the city.

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