Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brass Thieves Hit Fire Hydrants

And they don't quit, and they don't stop...., Dogs aren't the only ones casting a longing eye at fire hydrants these days. Fire departments across the country report that thieves are twisting the brass nuts off the tops and selling them for scrap, raising concerns that the hydrants won't work when needed most.

Firefighters responding to an April house fire in Hesperia, Calif., found that the five closest hydrants were useless because thieves had taken the nuts needed to get to the water. They called in special equipment, but by the time they got the fire under control, the house was a total loss.

"It definitely delayed us. It's become a real problem," said Tracey Martinez, spokeswoman for the San Bernadino County Fire Department, whose firefighters now carry spare parts to access hydrants that have been tampered with, though using them can cost valuable time.

Brass parts are fetching higher prices at scrap recyclers, though a single hydrant nut is unlikely to be worth more than $10 even in the current inflated market.

Fire hydrants aren't the only target — thieves have stolen brass ornaments from graves in Chicago and West Virginia, chrome-plated brass piping from men's bathrooms at fast-food restaurants in Pennsylvania, and brass plaques from churches in Houston.

But the hydrant thefts raise unique safety concerns. Officials in Prince William County in northern Virginia recently found that nearly four dozen hydrants had been stripped of their brass nuts, rendering them inoperable.

"This is an extremely high priority concern because of the potential devastation it can cause," said Assistant Fire Chief Hadden Culp, who has never seen such a problem. "We're not used to pulling up to a hydrant and it not working."