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Old Albion ...

Last week we discussed what Albion’s water supply was like a century ago. Let’s take a quick look around and tell me if anything’s familiar, compared to then. Yep: Some of those fire hydrants are the same ones originally installed when the first water mains were put in. In fact, some of those water mains are original equipment, a century old. See that water tower, just down the street from my house? Although well maintained, it’s three quarters of a century old.

None of this would be a problem – if nothing else had changed in the meantime.

Unfortunately, Americans now have more stuff. In 1900 furniture was fairly plain, and belongings comparatively sparse. It wasn’t uncommon for firefighters of the day to carry a bed key – a device used to save the family’s bed, because it was often the most expensive item in the entire house. There were no plastics, few flammable liquids, and much less of everything else – papers, cloth, wood, whatever. Today’s homes and businesses are stuffed to
the gills with Stuff. It makes fires burn faster -- and much, much hotter.

Fire load: Although armed with modern protective clothing, firefighters are facing blazes that burn hotter than ever.

A building fire that, in 1900, could be controlled with a hose flowing 100 gallons of water per minute today requires much more. If enough townspeople with strong backs surrounded the old hand engine and worked hard enough, they might produce 250 gpm; the standard for today’s diesel powered pumpers is five times that. Five inch diameter hose is now laid from the hydrants, flowing five times as much as 2 ½ diameter hose – it’s a hydraulic/math thing, trust me.

Sometimes we lay five inch hose from a four inch main. Worse, after a century the mains have become encrusted with deposits and sediments; the six inch mains might be five inches around now, and four becomes three. It’s possible for a modern pumper to collapse the old mains, or pull a hydrant right out of the ground. Nothing’s more embarrassing than heading back to the fire station with an old hydrant dragging on the pavement behind you.

The good news is, there are ways you can increase the capacity of a water main even before you replace it. You can “grid” the main, meaning water flows in from three or four directions instead of two; you can loop a dead end main, giving it flow from two directions instead of one; or, you can hang more water in your towers, increasing overall pressure.

The advantage of the latter is that you can put up a bigger tower, allowing more water for the “big one”. Did I mention that one of Albion’s towers is over 75 years old? I’m pretty sure I did. The good news is, Albion has two water towers – a new one was put up four decades or so ago, when a new industrial park came to town, and it’s bigger than the older one. But … there’s a problem.

Modern Albion; that's the old water tower in the background.

And here’s where it gets complicated.

Albion’s two water towers are at different heights. I’d thought this was unique, because it causes all sorts of problems, but I’ve recently learned Huntertown has the same problem – a 14 foot difference in elevation between their two towers means the level of one has to drop that much before the other can be used at all. In Albion’s case, the difference is so extreme that the two towers aren’t compatible: valves between them have to be shut off, otherwise the pressure from the taller tower to the east would overwhelm the lower tower to the west.

In effect, Albion has two separate water systems: One services mostly the industrial park, while the older, smaller tower provides for the rest of town. In the case of a large fire in central Albion, the old tower is quickly drained. In fact, the level in that tower gets dangerously low just from normal, day to day use, then fills back up at night.

Wait, it gets worse.

All the water that comes out of Albion’s water treatment plant is piped through the small water tower before being transferred, by way of a booster pump, into the larger tower. I’m not sure why this happened. Maybe the town fathers at the time planned to tear down the older tower after the newer one was finished, but came to the same conclusion I would have – that a backup water supply is pretty darned important – and ended up leaving it there.
Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time, but the result is a bottleneck. If a large fire breaks out in the industrial park, all the water going to refill the large tank must channel through that bottleneck, and that means there isn’t a place in Albion with the volume of water needed to handle the kind of emergencies that happen across this country every day.

So here’s the thing: the new water tower will be on the same elevation as the one in the industrial park, giving the entire community access to the entire supply. The small tower will be torn down, removing the bottleneck. Pressure and volume will increase, bringing better fire protection and domestic supply even to the oldest parts of town.

This is why our present town fathers (and mothers) are asking for letters of support from citizens, business owners, organizations, monkeys in the animal park, whatever. We get that grant, we get a water tower.

If we don’t … well, the fire department carries water in its tubs now. (Those of you with short memories, refer back to my earlier column.) We’d try again in a few years, although I’m not happy about how much costs will increase by then, and meanwhile firefighters will keep doing what they’re doing, even if they have to put colored bands on the hydrants to tell which ones are flowing enough water for a modern fire attack. We have tankers, we have large diameter hose – we’ll manage.

But over time, we’ve taken great leaps in protecting our citizens; I’m hoping we’re on the verge of another leap now.

The Albion Fire Department's 1988 pumper, at a training session. It pumps five times the amount of water as the 1888 hand pumper.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 23rd, 2007 11:41 am (UTC)
Fascinating, Mark. I don't think we have water towers in this part of the country - the only one I can think of was converted into a house several decades ago. I'm sure there's a historical reason for that.

I do hope you get your new water tower. From here it looks like simple common sense - which is always a tricky proposition when you're faced with politicians and bureaucrats. Good luck with the campaign!
Aug. 24th, 2007 06:37 am (UTC)
Maybe the fact that it's common sense may be why there haven't been any complaints about the plan so far -- at least, no complaints actually made to us. I'm sure the usual coffeeshop crowd is busy coming up with conspiracy theories about our evil plotting, but none of those people ever bother asking us for an explanation.

It could be an up-grade resevoir was put in to replace that water tower you spoke of -- they can hold a whole lot more water than a tower, so as areas grow they become the preferred storage method.
Aug. 24th, 2007 01:11 pm (UTC)
We do tend to have lots of reservoirs in this country, so that makes sense. Our population density is likely to be way higher than yours, I think. Birmingham, twenty-five miles west of here, imports a lot of its water from valleys in Wales, much higher up, so no flow problems. It helps that the actual distances aren't exactly huge by US standards.

As long as some idiot doesn't just lump it in with Evol Gummint Spending, you should be OK - I do hope you. You've persuaded me at least!
Aug. 25th, 2007 03:22 am (UTC)
You're right, our population density in Noble County is very low; we're pretty much farm country around here. Lots of fields, some swamps and woods, and of course the state park just to the south, so the demand for water is fairly low compared to more populated areas.

As far as distance, I found it interesting on the news this morning that we've been under flood warning for most of the week, while areas of the upper Midwest a few hundred miles away are having drought conditions and conserving water. If only we could afford to build a network of pipelines and just shuttle all that extra water to where it's needed!
Aug. 23rd, 2007 12:36 pm (UTC)
Interesting! I would have thought this may have been thought of before the lower tower was built, but that might have made too much sense ;) I hope your funding comes through!
Aug. 24th, 2007 06:40 am (UTC)
Maybe the builders of the new tower planned all along for it to feed only the industrial park; or maybe, as I mentioned, they planned to tear down the old one and feed the whole town with the newer, bigger tower. No one I've spoken to will admit to knowing, although we'll see, when this comes out in the paper, if the old Utilities Director gets defensive about it!
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 24th, 2007 06:41 am (UTC)
Sure, I'd love to give you a tour of the town -- we could have it done in less than an hour!
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 24th, 2007 10:24 am (UTC)
Oh, yes. I lived in a house out in the country until I was about 13, then moved to Albion and have been there ever since. I've moved 10 times in my life, and every time was to Albion! I like to joke that I now have keys to every building in town.

There are about 2,200 people here -- actually, if you go back and read my last fanfic, "Search and Rescue", you get a pretty good, if brief, description of Albion's attractions. And please do! I've had only one review, which came as something of a shock.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 25th, 2007 03:39 am (UTC)
Ah, I'd forgotten about the guy who trash-talked you. I black out bad guys! :-) Yes, I'd imagine we're a great deal less cramped than you are back in the "old country" ... but then, our history's not nearly as interesting!

Don't feel bad about missing my story, apparently everyone did. Maybe there was a blip in LJ that day -- it's happened before. http://ozma914.livejournal.com/149048.html#cutid1

Actually, I suppose a lot of people skipped it because it starts out with an OC character; I know some readers refuse to even consider a fic with OC characters in it, which in my mind is grossly unfair.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 26th, 2007 02:21 am (UTC)
This is before your time, but the main reason I came to LJ was to post my fanfics! But I've slowed down on writing them quite a bit since then, so you may be right; these days I post my columns a lot faster than fics.

However, someone else must have read "Search and Rescue" -- I just found out it's been nominated for an award!
Aug. 23rd, 2007 01:53 pm (UTC)
Quick question... can Now No Longer Live Here Citizens send in letters? I And what about those in Merriam? I know this is a HUGE thing that our town needs (I remember several teachers 10 years ago warning us not to make fire in Albion, because we'd burn the whole place down because of the water towers being placed "oddly", though then I took it as a joke).

So yah, get back to me on that and I'll get people right on it, lol.
Aug. 24th, 2007 06:27 am (UTC)
Well, sure -- I don't see why not. You can term yourself an Albion area resident. I might add that if there was a big fire in Merriam, some of the water tankers sent there might be coming back to Albion to refill!
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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