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Flower Hill may force residents to clear hydrants of snow

Elaine Phillips is the mayor of Flower Hill,

Elaine Phillips is the mayor of Flower Hill, where officials may vote Monday to require property owners to clear snow and ice from hydrants. Credit: Uli Seit

Flower Hill officials may vote Monday to require property owners to clear snow and ice from hydrants so firefighters have easy access, unlike when the hydrants were buried by last winter's heavy snowfall.

"It was a winter that had a tremendous amount of snow, and it was so cold that the snow never had an opportunity to thaw," said Mayor Elaine Phillips, who was re-elected in March to lead the village of 4,700.

Some of the village's 250 yellow and red hydrants were uncleared, and firefighters said they had to use GPS-software frequently to find them.

"We realized there were a lot of fire hydrants blocked," Phillips said. "You wake up one day and say 'Oh my goodness, how do we prevent this from happening?' "

What followed from the village was a deluge of hand-delivered newsletters and phone blasts to residents.

A proposed code change, introduced at a public hearing in April, is needed, said Raymond Ryan, chief of the Port Washington Fire Department.

Though firefighters could rely on hydrant tracking software, only the fire chief's vehicles have the technology, Ryan said. The searching can prove hazardous when every minute counts when responding to emergency calls.

"Every call we get to, we don't know if it's a fire until we get there," Ryan said. "When an engine rolls up, it needs to hook up to a hydrant, and the delay in the engine receiving the water would be a delay in extinguishing the fire."

The hydrants in the village are managed by three water districts, Manhasset-Lakeville, Port Washington and Roslyn. Some of the hydrants have markers that stand three feet above their tops.

The Town of North Hempstead considered a law in 2011 requiring property owners to maintain their hydrants, but officials dropped a residential restriction, settling for rules that mandated hydrant clearing on commercial properties. Council members said they were concerned about residents who were elderly, out-of-town, or had hydrants that were cleared but covered again by passing plows.

The winter's storms prompted state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) to propose a bill requiring New York City's sanitation department to maintain hydrants. Property owners or tenants must now maintain them.

And there is a state fire code, which requires property owners to maintain a 3-foot clear space around hydrants.

Village administrator Ronnie Shatzkamer said officials would give two warnings before a summons is issued. If there is a "blatant disregard of the law," the village code section on civil penalties may apply, she said. That provision says officials may levy no more than $2,500 for each code violation.

The elderly can "call and we'll take care of it," said Scott Hislop, the village's highway supervisor and emergency manager. The law is merely designed to give the village "teeth" in enforcing hydrant maintenance, he said.

Indeed, officials are taking a hands-on approach. "If for some reason you can't clear it yourself, we would gladly come and clear it for them," Phillips said. "We're not doing this to give people summonses."

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