Nova Scotia

Halifax Water struggling to clear fire hydrants of snow

Nova Scotia residents know the pain of clearing their driveways of snow, but for Halifax Water you can multiply that by 8,000 — which is the number of fire hydrants they have to dig out.

Of 8,500 fire hydrants in the city, Halifax Water is responsible for 8,000 of them

The freeze and thaw cycle has left hydrants entombed in snow and ice. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Nova Scotia residents know the pain of clearing their driveways of snow, but for Halifax Water you can multiply that by 8,000 — which is the number of fire hydrants they have to dig out.

There are about 8,500 fire hydrants in Halifax Regional Municipality and the water utility is responsible for 8,000 of them.

James Campbell, a spokesman for Halifax Water, said he has never seen a job like this.

"Everybody's working under adverse conditions. So we're doing what we can," he said. "In my tenure, I haven't seen anything like this with the snow, and then the rain, and then the ice, and then the snow."

The freeze and thaw cycle has left hydrants entombed in snow and ice. Plows have only made it worse.

"HRM is doing their best to clear the roads, but when they clear the roads they cover the hydrants," Campbell said.

"Residents are trying to dig out their driveways and they're covering the hydrants. Sidewalk crews are trying to clear out the sidewalks and they are covering up the hydrant. So it's kind of a basic struggle all the way around."

'If you can help out'

Campbell said Halifax Water has rented extra equipment and crews have been working hard since the last storm, but if residents want to lend a hand, they're welcome.

"Do it as safe as you can. If you can't safely do it, or if you can't physically do it, we understand that too," he said.

"But if you can help out and dig out that hydrant, go at it."

Jessica Striker said it took her boyfriend 15 minutes to clear out the hydrant in front of her house.

"We did decide we should do it despite it not being our job, because if something were to happen and couldn't be accessed, what then?" she asked. "There comes a point where you have to step up and do something."

Striker said she doesn't have a problem with Halifax Water asking residents to grab a shovel and help.

"They can only get through to so many hydrants, so by reaching out to us to dig them out helps everyone, not just them," she wrote CBC News in an email.

"They are at least acknowledging the fact they can't do it all, they need help. We have more storms coming up and if they don't get dug out it just gets worse."

Top, sides must be clear

Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency deputy chief Roy Hollett is grateful for the help.

"Congratulations and thank you very much. We appreciate it and I can tell you the water commission appreciates it," he said.

Jessica Striker says it took her boyfriend 15 minutes to clear out this hydrant in front of her house. (Jessica Striker)

Hollett said while buried hydrants are a time consuming hassle, they're not a safety risk.

"There isn't a safety issue with the hydrants that are under the snow," he said. "They are still accessible and we can get to one if we need one. And if one particular hydrant is not accessible, we can move to another one."

For residents who decide to adopt a neighbourhood fire hydrant and clear it, the good news is you don't have to clear down to the base. The areas that need to be clear are the top of the hydrant and the two side ports where firefighters hook up their hoses.

Halifax Water says they'll have all the hydrants in the city clear by Friday, just as the next storm is due to hit.

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