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Long Beach replaces some fire hydrants with saltwater-resistant high-tech versions

A new fire hydrant on West Park Avenue

A new fire hydrant on West Park Avenue in Long Beach on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Long Beach has replaced more than 100 fire hydrants with new flood-resistant ones that look more like R2-D2 than the classic curbside spigots.

The city has spent about $300,000 in the past three years to install the high-tech, futuristic-looking fire hydrants across the city after the older models were damaged by flooding during superstorm Sandy.

New hydrants from Oceanside-based Sigelock Systems are specially designed to be resistant to seawater and require low maintenance. Each new hydrant costs about $2,800, including installation, and has a 20-year warranty on all parts, Long Beach Public Works Commissioner Jim LaCarrubba said.

"It's built better and has more reliability," LaCarrubba said. "It's the best hydrant out there that's being made."

The new hydrants are also more secure and require less maintenance than the classic red Mueller Super Centurion hydrants, LaCarrubba said.

Long Beach is the first city on Long Island to replace fire hydrants. Several communities in Suffolk County are studying the new hydrants and Bethpage has explored replacing its hydrants with Sigelock versions, the company's senior operations officer Joe Kelly said.

Sigelock officials say their hydrants cost 20 to 30 percent more than the classic model, but the company reports savings of as much as $10,000 for each one over the life of the hydrant because of low maintenance. The hydrants are more expensive to install on Long Island because they must be placed deeper into the ground, Kelly said.

"It's not a product someone is going to see and suddenly buy 50 of them," Kelly said. "You have to get a fire department to look at them and get on board. Then the water utility is the final buyer."

Long Beach began installation of the new hydrants in 2011. The first ones installed have survived Hurricane Irene, superstorm Sandy and several harsh winters. Unlike classic hydrants, the Sigelock valves are guaranteed not to leak or freeze. Standard hydrants leak about 5 ounces of water per hour when in use, but the Sigelock hydrants have a stronger polymer seal that prevents leaks, Kelly said.

About 10 percent of the city's 650 fire hydrants were damaged by saltwater from Sandy. The floodwaters left some hydrants under 6 feet of water, particularly in the canal areas. When crews tried to open the flooded hydrants, the necks of some fixtures snapped off and interior parts were corroded. Crews first noticed problems while flushing hydrants after the storm.

"Just like residents' homes and cars, saltwater does a tremendous amount of damage," LaCarrubba said.

The city is replacing the oldest hydrants first and eventually plans to replace the rest of the hydrants in the city. Each new hydrant requires a special wrench to be opened that only city personnel have access to.

"This is a significant piece of our administration investing in our infrastructure," Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said. "These are much more secure, efficient and will last much longer. It was evident after Sandy that they needed to be replaced."

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