When cities age, so does their infrastructure.
And water mains are often the worst offenders, with massive losses going undetected day to day as cities scramble to keep up with the maintenance, construction and upgrading of their networks.
Ontario is following the practice of many US cities in color coding their fire hydrants to display the available fire flows at that location, something that Fire Chiefs see as only a temporary measure.
Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs
According to fire chiefs and watermain engineers across Ontario, aging underground water pipes could hamper firefighting efforts and put lives at risk.
There is often reduced water flow in old, corroded and leaking pipes, and this compromises the effectiveness of high-rise sprinkler systems and firefighting equipment. Some municipalities in Ontario – including Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston and Hamilton – are now colour-coding their fire hydrants to indicate low water flow areas.
“Aging pipes pose a serious risk. In extreme situations, they could result in sprinkler systems failing or the fire department being unable to put its equipment to the most effective use,” said Tim Beckett, Vice President of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and Fire Chief of Kitchener.
“Colour-coding hydrants is not a solution. All it does is warn the fire department that sufficient water flow may not be available.” Municipalities that practice the colour-coding system follow the U.S. National Fire Protection Association’s standards. The bonnet and nozzle caps of hydrants are painted a specific colour to indicate water flow as follows:
- Blue – flow greater than 95 litres/second
- Green – flow of 63 to 95 L/s
- Orange – flow of 31 to 63 L/s
- Red – flow less than 31 L/s
Funding, as always is a massive issue:
The Ontario government’s own report, titled Watertight, concluded: “Unless the rate of capital investment increases sharply from the level of the recent past, Ontario will face a gap of roughly $18 billion between what systems need and what they receive in funding over the next 15 years.”
If you were the fire chief in a city with low fire flows, would you
want the color coding or not? Ultimately it would give residents some
ammunition to force municipalities to step up to their requirements to
maintain the infrastructure – residents typically don’t stay quiet for
long when something as obvious as a “red topped” hydrant is sitting
outside their driveway.