Fire hydrant with a red top near your home? It may not be adequate in an emergency

FORT MITCHELL, Ky. -- Many residents along Highland Avenue have fire hydrants near their homes, but firefighters wouldn't be able to use them should a fire break out.

"Over time, we've seen a decrease in some of the pressures. So some of the hydrants that we would have used in the past are borderline now if we would use them," said Chief Gary Auffart of the Fort Mitchell Fire Department.

A red top painted on a fire hydrant means the flow is less than the recommended 500 gallons per minute. Highland Avenue alone has nine red-topped hydrants considered inadequate for use, impacting up to 300 homes.

Sharmili Reddy, Fort Mitchell city administrator, said water lines clogged by calcium buildup and other debris have made this an issue for years.

"Older communities with older infrastructure, old pipes that have been here for a long time: It's a pretty common problem around the region," Reddy said.

The Northern Kentucky Water District controls hydrants and water mains in the area. While firefighters need a minimum flow of 500 gallons per minute, the water district won't replace a hydrant until the flow drops below 250 gallons per minute on hydrants 25 years old or younger, according to Amy Kramer, vice president of engineering for the water district. She said there are no flow standards for hydrants older than 25 years, which are replaced once they stop functioning.

Firefighters simply have to find alternate options for squelching fires on streets with inadequate hydrants.

"We're using more hose to make sure that we're getting adequate water back to that area to fight fires," Auffart said. "It's not the normal process. but you know, we train on those types of things. There is a little bit of a delay when we deal with that. ... We just have to adapt to whatever comes."

Meanwhile a plan to replace the water main is in the works.

"We are coordinating this effort with the Northern Kentucky Water District to get the issue addressed," Reddy said. "They're going to start the first phase of this project at the very back end of Highland Avenue and get that water main replaced back there and hopefully work our way closer to Dixie Highway." 

Reddy didn't provide a specific timeline, but said the mayor and city council have declared it a "high priority."

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