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Digging out for fire protection, mail service

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

Truckee-Tahoe area residents need to remember more than just the driveway when shoveling snow after a big storm.

Mailboxes, propane tanks and even fire hydrants should be kept clear of snow during the winter, and while the local fire departments clear hydrants during the winter, they encourage the community to help. The U.S. Postal Service, on the other hand, requires residents to take care of mailboxes on their own. Fire hydrants are another matter.

“That hydrant is your hydrant,” said Truckee resident Charlie White. “You and your neighbors need to keep it clear and accessible ” it’s your house at risk.”

Gene Welch, Truckee Fire’s public safety and information officer, said the Truckee Fire Protection District clears hydrants, but is usually very busy responding to calls during storms.

“We can only do one at a time,” Welch said. “We are still in the process right now from the last storm.”

Truckee Fire clears the hydrants on the town’s main arteries first, trying to have hydrants available every 500 feet, Welch said.

The North Tahoe Fire Protection District hires contractors to uncover hydrants, identifying key locations that must be done first, said Chief Duane Whitelaw of North Tahoe.

While fire engines carry water for the initial attack on a fire, water from a hydrant is critical for long-term efforts, Welch said.

To aid Truckee Fire in clearing the hydrants, Welch said people can help, even without completely digging a hydrant out.

“At the minimum if they can make sure the snow pole stays visible, that helps us find them quickly,” Welch said.

Welch said community help in maintaining hydrants is important year-round.

“We encourage people to adopt a hydrant and keep it clear both in the summer and winter,” Welch said. “It makes the hydrant available sooner.”

Whitelaw said they also ask that two to three households share adoption of a hydrant.

“They should contact their local fire department,” Whitelaw said. “But for us even just uncovering it, making the ports on the sides accessible from the street meets our minimal need.”

Those with propane tanks at their homes also need to keep their tanks clear, Welch said.

“It’s very important to keep snow dug out to the valve and regulator of the propane tank,” Welch said. “The weight can damage the line and can make the regulator non-operational, which can cause over-pressurization in the house.”

Digging down the sides of the tank will also keep water from pooling and freezing on the tank, Welch said.

Whitelaw said keeping exterior vents for household appliances clear will keep them from venting back into the house.

Mailboxes may not be a matter of safety, but are important to keep clear.

“It’s a requirement for the homeowner to do so. The post office doesn’t [clear mailboxes],” said acting Post Master Caroline Cutler, from the Truckee Post Office.

And that doesn’t mean just cleaning of the box itself ” it also means making sure the box is accessible, she said.

“A rural carrier has to be able to drive up to the box, so digging out a path is not enough,” Cutler said.

Last but not least, Welch said to make sure any emergency exits are clear of snow after a storm.


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