Black fire hydrants scattered throughout the county might go largely unnoticed by the public, but firefighters know what they mean, and many make it a point to know exactly where they are.
Ink-colored fireplugs are a signal for firefighters not to hook up water hoses there because of low water volume and the possibility that infrastructure put in place by developers might collapse under the strain.
Some neighborhoods that have black hydrants contain large, upscale homes. Bentwater is among them.
Hood County Fire Marshal Jeff Young estimates that 65%-70% of the county does not have hydrants that provide strong enough water flows for firefighting.
The black fire hydrants came about because for years, there were no regulations in the more rural parts of the county for such things as water availability for firefighting.
“If a developer wanted to go in there and use really thin PVC pipe that won’t support water flow, which is what happened with a lot of them, there was nobody telling them back then that they couldn’t do it,” Young said.
Things began to change when, in 1999, the Legislature approved an addition to the Texas Local Government Code that is specific to Hood County.
Section 231.223 gives the county the ability to establish and regulate development-related matters such as the location, design, construction, extension, size and installation of water and wastewater facilities, including the requirements for connecting to a centralized water or wastewater system.
Although county officials can do nothing about developments that were built prior to the adoption of that statute, in more recent years they have created and amended a variety of regulations, which Development Director Clint Head enforces. Mandates requiring water availability for firefighting address such things as housing density, public water systems, private wells, storage tanks and lake and/or pond access.
Violators can face misdemeanor charges.
Within the past 20 years, the county purchased 2,000-gallon tanker trucks for each volunteer fire department.
The departments assist each other and provide a “water shuttle” with the tankers, according to Rick Frye, a former firefighter for the Granbury VFD whose background includes 14 years teaching classes in fire protection technology and fire administration at Tarrant County College.
In many cases, he said, a fire can be “put down” with a relatively small amount of water.
“But once it breaks outside and you have a fully involved structure, it’s going to be a total loss anyway,” Frye stated.
While the fact that the county has black hydrants might seem alarming, those who spoke to the Hood County News about the situation expressed confidence that the county’s volunteer fire departments provide strong protection for all parts of the county.
Young noted that black fireplugs can be used to refill tanker trucks and said that he hooks a hose onto one if he feels the need to do so. He explained that although utility companies fear that suction from fire hoses will collapse lines, hoses used by Hood County’s fire departments do not create suction.
Frye, who was mayor of Granbury from 1991-1995, agreed with Young’s assessment that some developments have “minimal infrastructure,” but did not blame developers. They are in the business to make money, he said, and did not view strengthening firefighting capabilities to be among their responsibilities.
As far as black fire hydrants go, Frye stated, “I think what they’re really addressing is the fact that it’s not a sustainable firefighting flow over a long period of time.”
Although fire hydrants and their proximity to homes were once considered important factors where homeowner’s insurance was concerned, State Farm Agent John Mark Davis said that has not been the case for years. In fact, he said he was not aware that there are black hydrants unable to provide strong water flow for fighting fires.
Davis said that State Farm uses a “zip code-based rating” and that the agency considers the 76048 and 76049 zip codes within Hood County to be well covered where fire protection is concerned, thanks to volunteer firefighters.
“They do a great job of covering the entire county,” he said.
Frye’s biggest issue with the black fire hydrants is that they are hard to see, especially at night.
The city of Granbury has no black fire hydrants, according to city staff. City fire hydrants are silver with bonnet and cap colors in red, orange, green or light blue. Each color indicates available flow, ranging from 500 gallons per minute to 1,500 gallons or more per minute.
The county’s fire departments rely largely on fundraisers but also receive annual stipends from the county. Last year, the Commissioners Court approved $30,000 for each station.
Talks are underway to possibly significantly increase that funding.