The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 20, 2014

Snow can deter public safety efforts

By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — Snow removal has seemed like a never-ending story this year for area residents, but in some cases, not removing could be a lingering matter on public safety.

Most cities have ordinances in place requiring residents to remove snow and ice from public property such as sidewalks and parking lots, but oftentimes the real dangers lie in failing to remove snow build-up from city fire hydrants.

While neither Camanche nor Fulton have any laws or ordinances in place demanding residents clear snow from hydrants that are on or near their property, they do strongly encourage people to work together to keep them clear in case of any fire emergency.

“We’re just hoping that the residents are made aware of it and do their part to make sure things are cleared so we can all be safe,” Camanche Fire Chief Dave Schutte said.

Given a scenario where a hydrant has not been cleared when a fire breaks out, Schutte said even with soft snow, it could take as long as 10 minutes to dig out the water source.

If ice has accumulated onto the hydrant over the course of the winter, he said they may never be able to dig it out.

“It’s going to be a determent to the situation if the hydrant is not cleared and there’s a fire,” Schutte said. “That’s time that could make a difference in the severity of the fire.”

To avoid heavy build-up, especially during heavy snowfall winters, Schutte and Fulton Fire Chief Joe Michaelsen both suggest removing the snow shortly after it falls. That way, residents can stay one step ahead of snow and ice build-up, making it easier throughout the year.

If residents are unable to clear hydrants on their property, both departments encourage people let them know so they can take the appropriate steps. In extreme situations, Michaelsen will even send out a crew on a Saturday afternoon to clear the city’s hydrants to avoid the repercussions of not having access when the time comes.

“It’s a big time savings thing for us if people keep the hydrants clear then we can get to it that much sooner,” Michaelsen said. “But, I’ll even send a couple guys out every once in a while to clear hydrants that are buried.”

Snow and ice build-up on sidewalks and driveways can also be detrimental to the fire department’s ability to secure a location, especially when paramedic service is called.

According to Schutte, when there is a thick layer of ice at a residence, whether that be on a sidewalk or other entrances, it becomes very difficult to handle the ambulance stretchers with, or without, patients on them.

It also poses hazards for firefighters.

“Sidewalks come more into play for ambulance calls; when there’s no shoveled path for the cot to come through with the ambulance,” Schutte said. “If there’s no path during a fire that does make it a little difficult for us but the worse thing is just the cold in general. Ice makes everything treacherous for the department.”

Issuing an ordinance requiring residents to clear hydrants could be a solution for the future, but both Schutte and Michaelsen agree that it would be difficult to enforce and community participation is really the best method to maintaining snow removal.

“When we have a fire near the residence, we need to get to the hydrant quickly and if it’s buried by snow it can take several minutes to dig that hydrant out and get hooked up to it,” Michaelsen said. “That’s a dangerous situation to be in so we just ask that people keep it cleared for us, to make it a little easier.”