Syosset Fire Department Chief John Capobianco put it bluntly: “Eventually, it could mean the difference in life and death.”
After several major storms over the past few weeks have left snow piled high around fire hydrants, Capobianco and officials across Long Island are calling on residents to help dig them out.
Capobianco said the first few minutes after firefighters arrive at a fire are the most critical.
“Time that we spend finding and clearing hydrants could be time searching for victims,” Capobianco said.
The Syosset Fire Department began clearing hydrants Friday, starting next to the home of Richard Battagliola.
“I’m 74 years old, I can’t,” Battagliola said. “The other day I tried to clear this on the sidewalk side but with this storm, [it’s] impossible. You need dynamite to get through.”
Dynamite, or a four-man crew of youthful firefighters. Three removed snow immediately surrounding the hydrant, while a fourth dug a wide path so hoses could get through.
On Saturday, Capobianco hopes to dispatch three or four six-person crews.
“It really is a monumental task,” said Capobianco, noting that Syosset is part of the Jericho Water District, a system with 3,366 hydrants. “It’s not feasible for the water district to do it, so we have to do it ourselves and rely on residents to help us, which in turn is helping themselves.”
On Friday, Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Joseph Williams issued a release reminding residents and merchants to make sure access to local fire hydrants is not impeded by snow, although there is no county requirement to do so. According to a Firemen’s Association of the State of New York spokesperson, state fire code about hydrant obstruction only applies to permanent elements like bushes.
“It is common sense, and could save our volunteers valuable time if responding to a fire in your community,” Williams said, adding that residents could also report issues with blocked hydrants to their local fire departments.
“If you have a fire hydrant on or near your property, please take a few minutes to shovel it out,” a message on the Dix Hills page stated in large print. “It would be helpful if you shoveled a 3 foot area around the hydrant. This will enable us to respond much faster in an emergency. Make sure the fire hydrants in your neighborhood are cleared of snow. Inform your neighbor and/or do it yourself.”