By Nancy Nais
VANDALISED, buried and stolen fire hydrants have been causing major headache and problems for firefighters, not just for fire fighting operations but also the cost of repairs.
Sarawak Fire and Rescue (Bomba) head of water resources management, Tan Min Chai, described a fire hydrant is a magnificent and complex machine that allows firefighters to tap into a water system to assist in extinguishing a fire.
Yet certain people have not come to realise the importance of fire hydrants during emergencies, he said.
There are 34,631 pillar and ground hydrants, which are divided to two types, public (red) and private (yellow) throughout the state.
“If our firefighters have a two or five minutes delay in hooking up the hose to hydrant, somebody could die,” he said.
As at October this year, 4,771 units of hydrants were reportedly damaged or vandalised as compared to 5,144 units in 2018 and 3,715 units in 2017.
“These acts cost taxpayers money in wasted resources and time it takes to fix. The theft of chamber covers, outlet caps and flanges leave the fire hydrants in disrepair, and the department has spent RM218,755 this year just to repair 98 damaged units and replacing the parts that are stolen.
“In 2018, the cost of repair came up to RM329,578 (125 units), while 2017 recorded a sum of RM415,794 (180 units),” Tan disclosed.
Despite all repairs or replacements, he said it was regrettable that the said items will go missing again and in most cases, within 24 hours. The stolen items were apparently sold as scrap metal at second hand shops.
Depending on its location, a newly installed fire hydrant can cost between RM6,000 (in major cities) to RM8,000 (such as Limbang or Kapit) a piece.
Because of that, the department now uses cement for chamber covers and plastic for outlet caps to reduce the number of thefts and vandalism.
“In the event firefighters still come across missing outlet thread, they have their back-up, thanks to the department’s creative and innovative team who created the alternative hydrant adaptor.
“This is to ensure that the water hose is locked in properly and does not come off as the water pressure can go between five to eight bar, which is very strong.
“This alternative adaptor is now made compulsory to be kept in each and every fire engine (FRT),” Tan said.
There are also cases where hydrants were completely buried underneath the ground due to irresponsible contractors who do repair or upgrading of roads and drainage.
In this case, he said the department will conduct thorough checks via building or road plans before informing the local councils.
The department can also issue compound to respective contractors who were responsible in damaging, burying or removing hydrants without permission.
“For contractors or agents appointed in road or drainage projects, they must ensure that they have include the specification to upgrade or relocated any existing fire hydrant,” he continued.
Firefighters throughout the state are required to inspect fire hydrants within their station jurisdiction on a regular basis and report defective hydrants for repair or replaced.
“Then there are those who parked their vehicle or hawkers who set up stalls next to fire hydrants or landscaping and piles of heavy rubbish on it, an act which causes obstruction to the firefighters in cases of emergency.”
Tan also warned that tampering with a public utility is a felony, saying, “When apprehended, you will be prosecuted under Fire Service Act 1988.”
Meanwhile, the department is seeking police’s corporation to constantly check on scrap metal outlets to ensure that the later do not buy stolen public properties such as hydrant chamber cover, outlet cap, or worse, the whole hydrant itself.
This is due to the fact that when there is a demand, thieves will continue to steal.
“Another note to keep in mind is that each fire engine is only able to hold 3,600 litre of water, a capacity enough to extinguish a fire for the first five minutes.
“After that, it is a make or break for the firefighters to source for an alternative water source. If the hydrant is unusable, then they will have to source for open water such as drains, ponds or lakes,” Tan said, adding that there are also times where hydrants have very low or no water at all.
On that note, he is calling on the public to lodge a police report if they come across acts of vandalism of fire hydrants.
“This will ensure the vandals can be properly dealt by law and everyone should contribute to prevent loss of life and property at anytime because disasters can occur anywhere, and they often occur when we least expect them.”
Vandals, thieves, individuals (for whatever reason) or contractors who don’t seem to care should think of the lives at stake during a fire before stealing or damaging these hydrants.
Friends of Fire Hydrants (FoFH)
Bomba has a special programme for public to monitor cases of vandalism on this facility, and they are called upon to join the ‘Friends of Fire Hydrants (FoFH).
The FoFH currently has only 9,520 members against a total of 32,587 public fire hydrants in Sarawak, meaning about 29.2 percent of hydrants has ‘friends’ to watch over them.
“We encourage the community to offer themselves, especially to those who live near fire hydrants to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the department,” Tan said.
He added that FoFH can lodge report to the nearby station if they spot any vandalism on fire hydrants, or to report those that are broken or malfunctioned.
Those interested to participate as FoFH can approach the nearest fire station for further inquiries. — DayakDaily
(Read more: Part 1)