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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hosed 

The Chron has an article this morning about how the entire state of California uses fire hydrants with 2.5 inch hose connections while The City uses 3.5 inch. This is bad because in the event of a major earthquake in SF all the fire engines rushing from other cities to the scene to fight the raging fires will not be able to connect their hoses to SF hydrants and will be unable to help. The SFFD has a plan, though, they have adapters that can be used to step down the 3.5" connections to 2.5". Problem solved. But wait, you say, is the SFFD going to have someone standing at the gates to The City handing out these adaptors to incoming fire companies? That's just ridiculous, you continue.

The reason SF is the lone hold-out against the 2.5" standard is that instead of their hydrants running off the local water mains, they have a dedicated, high pressure fire hydrant water system. This system allows them to run more hoses off a single hydrant before requiring a pumper truck to boost pressure. They argued, back in the day when the standard was worked out, that it would way too expensive to go back and replace all the custom (read very expensive) hydrants to meet the standard.

Now lets think this through a bit further. In the event of a Katrina-style disaster in SF, there will be no "rushing" of fire engines to the scene. The roads will be quite blocked by debris and collapsed bridges, etc. And it's not too likely that there will be a lot of pressure in the pipes feeding the hydrants, what with the buckling of the ground and the shattering of all manner of whatnot.

The SF hydrant system is going to be useful for that happy medium earthquake that knocks some stuff down but doesn't really do a lot of damage. In the event of a cataclysm the PGE crews closing valves on gas mains are going to be what slows down the fires. Anything that really gets going will have to burn itself out. I think its time to do some fear-mongering on a topic that where it might do some good.

Update:Today's (Thursday) Chron has another article about The City's nonstandard hydrants and how there is some serious head scratching going on about coming up a with a better plan than handing out adaptors to engines as they come into town. Having devoted about 1 minute to the problem, I have the solution. It would cost too much money to replace all the hydrants with new ones with the right diameter connectors. But there are adaptors that can be used. Each SF hydrant has 6 connections. Buy 6 adaptors for every hydrant in the city. Go to each hydrant in the city and screw an adaptor onto each connection. To prevent theivery, weld the adaptors onto the hydrant. Buy new hoses with 2.5" connectors for all the SFFD trucks. Problem solved. My favorite part of the article was about how SF got the exemption to the rule because

...has a one-of-a-kind, specialized system that was specifically invented to work after the havoc of a major earthquake, and that the system has not failed the department yet.
Man that's funny. How many major earthquakes have their been lately? Loma Prieta is the only one I can think of and its epicenter was down by Santa Cruz. The water system has not failed to perform in a situation that has not yet happened. Woo!

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