For Bozeman, Montana, a disastrous water theft prompted the purchase of new security devices to protect its fire hydrants from vandalism and unauthorized access. As an added benefit, the system also helps the utility meet the security challenges of this post-9/11 era.
The Mueller Hydrant Defender Device uses 14 gauge (.075") 304 stainless steel straps that prevent unauthorized access.
According to John Alston, the city’s Water/Sewer Superintendent, timing and conditions could not have been worse: Darkness, a blinding snowstorm, and sub-zero temperatures. Yet, on a February night in 2003, Bozeman experienced one of the worst water thefts in United States history: Hydrants were vandalized, and a total of almost three million gallons of water was lost over a three-day period.
“Landscaping and road damage was significant, but, thankfully, no one was injured,” Alston said.
The criminal act reinforced the federal government’s call for taking action to improve water system security. Having already researched several hydrant security systems, Alston teamed up with Bozeman Fire Chief Chuck Winn and his department to identify key requirements: Heavy duty, maximum security, and affordable.
Within one week of the catastrophe, the city had purchased 400 Mueller Hydrant Defender Security Devices. The hydrant locking system was developed by the company to prevent water supply intrusion, contamination, and fire hydrant vandalism.
“This was the only device developed specifically to prevent intrusion into the water supply,” Alston said. “The Defender protects both the operating nut and the caps of the hydrant, and because the recommended locks are uniquely coded for the purchaser and access to the keys is controlled by the lock’s manufacturer, there’s an excellent tracking system. It’s extremely unlikely the keys can fall into the wrong hands.
“The lock’s design makes it nearly impossible to pick, yet firefighters wearing gloves can get it apart easily and quickly,” he added. “Plus, we didn’t have to retrofit or modify any of our hydrants.”
The Mueller Hydrant Defender Device uses 14 gauge (.075”) 304 stainless steel straps that prevent unauthorized access.
Most of the hydrant security devices available throughout the country use a universal wrench or tool that can be obtained by a motivated wrongdoer. These security devices can be unlocked and replaced with little or no evidence of tampering.
The Mueller Hydrant Defender Device uses 14 gauge (.075”) 304 stainless steel straps that prevent unauthorized access to all but the most determined individuals. The recommended stainless steel barrel lock features a key, or keys, that are uniquely coded for the purchaser and strictly controlled by the manufacturer.
When the device is locked, the hydrant nozzles and the operating nut can only be accessed by completely cutting through the heavy straps or barrel lock. Damage to the straps or lock will be clearly evident, even from a distance, and the water authority can investigate the problem immediately.
The system’s straps are adjustable to accommodate variations in hydrant dimensions and models are available to fit virtually any make of 3-way hydrant. Custom markings such as “Out of Service” or a durable epoxy paint custom-matched to virtually any color scheme can be applied. Installation is simple and no special tools are required.
Of Bozeman’s 1,800 hydrants, 700 currently are outfitted with the security system. All hydrants eventually will be secured, with any new installations required to include the Mueller device.
Despite the progress, Winn admits to overcoming an initial sense of reluctance.