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Firefighters ask for help digging out hydrants

Farmington firefighters spent part of a recent training night digging out a buried fire hydrant that had been reported to the city. The fire department has asked residents to help keep hydrants clear of snow.

This winter's snow has been a hassle for a lot of people. Just imagine, then, how frustrated a firefighter would be if he or she couldn't attach a hose to a hydrant buried in snow while trying to put out a house fire.

That's what has Farmington fire chief Tim Pietsch worried these days. A few weeks ago, the fire department responded to a minor fire. It was more or less out by the time they arrived, but they still had to take time to dig out the closest hydrant. Had the fire been larger, those few minutes spent digging could have meant losing the house.

"We need some help," Pietsch told the Farmington City Council Monday.

Pietsch asked Farmington residents to pitch in and help dig out their neighborhood hydrants.

Clearing fire hydrants out of the snow isn't anyone's specific job. The city of Farmington has maintenance crews, but public works director Todd Reiten said his employees are busy just keeping the streets clear of snow. There haven't been any big snowstorms lately, but these days, Reiten's crews are busy trying to scrape away the excess snow and widen roadways or remove some piles at intersections to clear sight lines. They don't have the time, or the manpower, to dig out fire hydrants, too.

"We will get to them if and when we have the time, but it's not a priority," Reiten said.

That's why Pietsch is calling on residents to help out. Doing more shoveling isn't necessarily fun for anyone, but neither would be losing a home if firefighters couldn't get to one in an emergency.

"If somebody should perish because we couldn't get a hose hooked up, that would be a terrible thing to live with," Pietsch said.

In some cases, the snow is packed so heavily that even a snowblower won't help and the only way to clear a hydrant is to do it by hand. Still, Pietsch and Reiten are asking for residents to grab those shovels and help out.

"We put flags on them all so we can see them," Reiten said. "We just don't have the manpower to do everything."

In some areas, Pietsch said, the snow has been piled so high that the flags are barely visible. He's adopted a hydrant in his neighborhood over the years, but admitted that the last time he went to dig it out, he had to take the fire department's hydrant map out with him.

"I knew there was a hydrant in the area, but I really had to search to find it," he said.

Members of the Farmington Fire Department have dug out a few hydrants, mostly where a resident had called and requested assistance in doing so. They used their Monday training time on Dec. 27 to dig out a couple, but they can't do that all the time or they risk losing valuable training opportunities, Pietsch said.

Digging out hydrants is the same concept as asking residents to clear snow from around their mailboxes, Reiten added. City crews can clear the streets, but there again, they don't have the time or manpower to make sure the postal service can get to mailboxes.

"You only have so many people to do so much," Reiten said.

Pietsch does plan to get a little assistance from the Dakota County Sentenced to Serve program, but dates for their work in Farmington have not been established. In the meantime, he implores residents to help out.

The city of Farmington is also starting an Adopt-a-Hydrant program, he added. Information on the program is listed on the city's web site,

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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