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Motorists shear off nine fire hydrants yearly
Manteca firefighters work to find the shutoff valve buried under mud from a sheared off fire hydrant Friday at Union Road and Woodward Avenue on Friday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

The impromptu geysers that happen every time someone shears off a fire hydrant aren’t all that rare of an occurrence.

There are nine such incidents in a typical year in Manteca.

And like the incident that occurred on Friday at Woodward Avenue and Union Road the party responsible is on the hook for all damages. Typically the damages the city recovers are well in excess of $2,000.

One doesn’t have to hit a fire hydrant to incur an expense. You can park within 15 feet of one and get slapped with a base fine of $100 before court costs are tacked on top.

If you really want to pile up out-of-pocket expenses, park your vehicle in front of a hydrant that firefighters need to access to fight a fire.
They city under state law isn’t on the hook for any damages that occur while firefighters access the hydrant.

“We have one fire where we had to break out the car windows to get the hose to the hydrant,” interim Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters said. “We will do whatever we have to do to get the hose to the hydrant to fight a fire.”

Sometimes that involves shoving a car out of the way. If time is of the essence, though, and the car doesn’t move be prepared to replace broken windows and deal with interior water damage. Your insurance company may not be willing to cover the losses either meaning you are out a lot of money for violating the law.

Time is of the essence in getting water to a fire. Adding seconds can easily escalate fire damages by thousands of dollars as well as imperil lives.
There is a misconception that the curb needs to be painted red or the area around a fire hydrant has to be posted to make drivers aware that 15 feet must be left on either side of a hydrant.

State law doesn’t require it and courts take a dim view of ignorance of the law as well as lack of  common sense.

Some have tried to argue that because a fire hydrant wasn’t yellow, that somehow the law doesn’t apply. That’s not the case.

In California, different colors immediately tell firefighters what type of water pressure to expect – a crucial component in fighting a fire. Class AA is light blue and has a 6000 liter per minute flow, Class A is green and has a 4000-5,996 liter per minute flow, Class B is yellow or orange and depicts a 2,000 liter per minute flow, and Class C is red and has less than 2,000 liter per minute flow.

“We’re fortunate that we have good water pressure in Manteca.” Waters said.

The interim fire chief also noted that Manteca has consistently installed the best made fire hydrants that make them less prone to having issues or easily being sheared from their mounts. Even so, you can expect for Manteca to have to replace nine fire hydrants a year.

Hydrants are placed every 300 to 500 feet in developed areas of Manteca.

The city in the mid-1990s placed blue “Botts Dots” – the raised reflectors found down the center of streets – at the center point of roads to tell firefighters responding in the dark or the fog where a fire hydrant is located.

An Eagle Scout last summer replaced a number of the blue reflectors that were showing wear. Waters said there are others that still need replacing.

Just as important as not blocking hydrants is to make sure your house number is visible from the street. Although firefighters are fairly familiar with neighborhoods and have maps, the longer it takes them to find the address they’ve been dispatched to for either a medical emergency or even a fire without visible flames, the greater the chance of losses or even death.

“You should place (house) numbers where they are easily visible from the street, Waters said.

That includes making sure they are under a light where they can be seen and they contrast well with whatever house color is behind them.

Having numbers painted on the curb are extremely ineffective. Not only are firefighters scanning houses for the numbers but they can easily be blocked from vision by someone parking in front of them or even slightly away from them.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail