Galesburg, IL In recognition of Fire Prevention Week, members of the Galesburg Retired Firefighters Association (GRFA) have been revisiting old friends in recent weeks. With the support and direction of the Galesburg Water Department, retirees have washed and painted about 60 fire hydrants in the southwest part of the city. Hydrant painting is typically assigned to temporary summer employees. With over 1,500 hydrants in Galesburg and a reduction in the summer workforce, the group offered to help with the important maintenance of the city’s most visible water supply element. The periodic painting makes for increased service life, improves hydrant visibility for fire response, and allows for a better town image.
GRFA President Mike Whitson said, “It’s nice to get out with old friends, help out the great folks at the water department, and do some good for the city that gave most of us our livelihood. The hydrants seem to turn a little harder in retirement and we banter about the time we used a hydrant at a fire here and there. We’re glad to help.” The prototype of the modern fire hydrant was invented by Birdsill Holly of New York in 1869, two years prior to the Great Chicago Fire. Chicago had not yet converted to the new style in 1871 when water supply problems contributed to the conflagration. In years prior, cities were using wooden water mains, and firemen were tasked with digging through the cobblestones and chopping holes in the pipes to get water for firefighting. Wooden “fire plugs” were driven into the mains to fill the hole after the fire and the term is occasionally still in use today to describe modern hydrants. Galesburg follows hydrant-coloring standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association and American Water Works Association. Public hydrants, found on most corners in the city, are painted chrome yellow. There are also about 200 private fire hydrants in the city that serve to supplement fire sprinkler and standpipe systems in larger facilities such as shopping centers and industrial plants. Private hydrants are painted all red. The small outlet caps on either side of public fire hydrants are painted according to the flow rate of the individual hydrant. This is critical information to responding firefighters. Green cap hydrants flow over 1,000 gallons per minute (gpm) and are typically found in commercial areas such as along Main and Henderson Streets. Orange cap hydrants flow between 500 and 1,000 gpm and make up the bulk of hydrants in residential areas of the city. There are very few red cap hydrants flowing under 500 gpm left in the city as water and fire officials have systematically improved the size and flow rates over the years while eliminating “dead-end” hydrants that are supplied from only one direction.
All hydrants in Galesburg are of the dry barrel type due to the freezing weather. There is no water normally in the hydrant barrel. Movie images of cars breaking off hydrants and water shooting into the air are typically not seen in the Midwest. Only when the valve is turned on top of the hydrant does water begin to enter from the underground main. With the closing of the hydrant, a drain valve opens to let the remaining water out and prevent freezing. "The City of Galesburg is thankful for all of the volunteers within the community," said City Manager Todd Thompson. "We're proud of our retired firefighters stepping up to fill this need, and are cognizant of the community events, beautification, and camaraderie that wouldn't be possible without the many involved volunteer groups throughout our community." The retired firefighters’ group will continue washing and painting hydrants until the weather drops below 50 degrees in the coming weeks.