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There are critical questions emergency responders must answer when they arrive on the scene of a fire. Among them: Where is the water supply and how much water is available?

Fire hydrants in Fernandina Beach are color-coded according to the gallons of water they spray per minute.

Fire hydrants in Fernandina Beach are color-coded according to the gallons of water they spray per minute.

In Fernandina Beach, there are more than 800 fire hydrants spread throughout the community. But they are not equal when it comes to water supply.

The city follows National Fire Protection Association guidelines that call for fire hydrants drawing water from the public supply to be color-coded with tops and caps indicating, through various hues, the available gallons per minute that will spray through the nozzle, says Utilities Director John Mandrick, whose department is tasked with maintaining local hydrants, which are tested twice each year—once by Utilities and once by the Fire department.

The NFPA uses four colors to represent a hydrant’s GPMs, including blue, green, orange, and red. While red is the color associated with fire hydrants, it’s the hue representing the lowest GPM. Here are the GPMs by color, says Mr. Mandrick:

Red: Less than 500 gallons

Orange: 500 to 1,000 gallons

Green: 1,000 to 1,500 gallons

Blue: 1,500 gallons and above

Mr. Mandrick says 90 percent of the city’s hydrants, whose bodies are painted yellow, have “terrific” flow and that’s indicated by the overwhelming number of hydrants with blue tops and caps. But the city has some hydrants painted with the other colors and the ‘lower flow’ hydrants, he says, are largely located on the north end near the beach and in Old Town. “If you want pictures, that’s where you’ll find them,” he says.

They are easy to spot and many hydrants appear shiny and new. Mr. Mandrick says the city pays contractor First Coast Detailing in Fernandina $35 to scrape and paint each one. The city, he says, supplies the paint.

“That’s a great price,” he says. “I can’t send an employee to do it for that price. It would cost taxpayers more if we did it.”

Mr. Mandrick was reached by phone last month to discuss fire hydrants after this reporter saw one morning while walking dogs a man and woman painting a hydrant at the intersection of Florida Ave. and S. Wolff St. yellow and blue. In conversation about the colors, the man guessed that they followed the high school’s ‘pirate colors,’ which are blue, yellow and a smattering of white.

Mr. Mandrick defined yellow and blue as the ‘best’ color to have on a hydrant because it pumps out the most gallons per minute. He tied the quality of flow to the size of the main water supply line.

“Citrona (Dr.) has a large line and all the hydrants over there will be yellow and blue,” he says. “On the north end, the lines are smaller and older and have (hydrants with) lower GPMs.”

Mr. Mandrick says the city is replacing water supply lines and targeting areas with ‘red’ hydrants.

Over the summer, he says, the city expanded the size of the pipe along Ash St. between S. 9th to S. 11th St. and immediately upgraded the flow a local hydrant, changing the colors to blue from red. Further, he says, the city collected $15,000 from the developers of a planned boutique hotel in the old school building one block north at Atlantic Ave. and S. 10th St. to bring the bigger line to the building, which is going to need more water when guests arrive sometime next year.

“They saved a huge amount of money tagging onto our project,” he said by phone last month. “They wrote the check that day.”

Mr. Mandrick said the city’s fire protection rating from the Insurance Service Office, which ranks service on a scale of 1 to 10 with one being the best rating, is more important than the color of hydrants. The city’s ISO rating is 4, an excellent score, he says.

“They look at fire hydrants and the availability of water and we’ve always gotten full points in that category,” he says.

Fire Chief Ty Silcox agrees that the city has an excellent hydrant system.

“I’m very happy it,” he says when reached by phone Thursday. “John (Mandrick) does a great job maintaining the hydrants and letting us know when one is going to be down and needs to be replaced.”

He says communication is important. At a previous job there were messaging snafus, he says.

He said the Fire Department put a lot of work into painting the hydrants NFPA and another municipal department came along—without notice—and painted the hydrants red. “It turned out to be a waste of time,” he said.

Chief Silcox said colors on hydrants are important for firefighters.

“On a big structure fire you know you’re going to need a lot of water and you know what the hydrant is going to give you,” he says. “A lot of times you don’t have a choice based on the grid (of the water supply) but it is important information.”

Chief Silcox says his goal is to bring the city’s ISO rating to number 1, an exceptional number few communities reach.

He said the department can achieve that by increasing training and improving its water system, among other efforts.

“There’s a lot that goes into an ISO rating but it’s a goal I’d like to achieve,” says Chief Silcox.

Chief Silcox, who oversees a department with 30 workers and a $5.1 million budget, said the city will be in a better position to achieve training goals if the Nassau County Sheriff can open—as planned—a training center for emergency responders on CR 108 near Hilliard. The closed training center is in Jacksonville.

“I wish it could be closer,” he says. “We’d benefit.”