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Dry hydrants could make De Pere firefighting easier

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – It might sound like an oxymoron, but dry fire hydrants may just be the next arrow the De Pere Fire Department adds to its firefighting quiver.

On Sept. 17, the De Pere Common Council gave the fire department the OK to apply for a forest fire protection grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and to use the money towards purchase of five dry fire hydrants.

The grant would pay for half of the cost of the hydrants, about $7,480.

Dry fire hydrants use water that comes from sources such as lakes or ponds, or in De Pere’s case, the Fox River.

Dry hydrants employ a pipe, with one end below water level, and they’re usually installed permanently.

A fire hose screws on to the end of the pipe that extends out of the water and out comes river water.

When the De Pere Fire Department (and surrounding fire departments) responded to the fire at Ogan restaurant on Broadway last spring, dry fire hydrants would have come in handy, said De Pere Fire Chief Alan Matzke.

“We significantly taxed the water system,” Matzke said.

He said crews did pump water from the Fox River without the benefit of dry hydrants, and it was very labor intensive.

“This (dry fire hydrants) would give us the ability to pull water from the river all year round,” Matzke said. “It would improve our time in responding to fires, and it would cost the city less money, because we would not be pulling clean city water from the treatment plant to use in fighting fires.”

Matzke said of the five dry fire hydrants his department is seeking, three would be on the east side, stationed beneath the Claude Allouez Bridge, and two would be on the west side, behind Ahlstrom-Munksjo paper mill, extending from a catwalk in an area of the river that does not freeze.

If the fire at Nicky’s Lionhead Restaurant on Main Avenue in March had spread to nearby downtown buildings, the city’s water supply might not have been enough to put it out, Matzke said.

“We would have been in need of water,” he said. “With the dry hydrants, we should be able to pump water all down Main Avenue.”

The age and construction of De Pere’s downtown business district makes the potential for a large fire considerable, he said.

In answer to a question about the possibility of the east side dry hydrants interfering with the Fox River Recreational Trail, which goes underneath the bridge, he said they would not.

“They are only eight to 10 feet long; we would pull up alongside the trail and it would not be a problem,” Matzke said.

He said since De Pere has never applied for this grant before, he hopes that improves its chance of being awarded it.

If the department doesn’t get the grant, it plans to ask for it to be put into the next year’s budget.

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