SYKESVILLE, Md. — When the call comes out to respond to a fire, one of the last things firefighters with the Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department expect to find is a faulty hydrant, but with thefts of water from hydrants on the rise, it's quickly becoming a concern.
"The big issue we have with theft from our hydrants is not so much the volume of water being taken. It's the potential damage to the fire hydrants," said Andrew Watcher, the county’s utilities bureau chief.
Watcher says the county has come up with a legal alternative for landscapers, swimming pool companies and other contractors to get water in large quantities in the shadow of a million-gallon water tower on Ronsdale Road in Sykesville.
"He comes over here. He opens up the cap for this thing. It's swipe card oriented," said Watcher as he demonstrated the service.
For a quarterly fee of $100, contractors can sign up to get water.
Every thousand gallons will cost them about seven bucks.
"You show up and you hook your hose up to our tank here, punch your information in and then you fill your tank up and away you go," Watcher explained.
Otherwise, water thieves risk damaging the hydrant, which could prevent firefighters from attaching their hoses to them in the event of a fire, or they could shut them off too quickly causing pressure damage to the underground pipes.
To help combat the problem, the county has also put warning placards on many of the more than 800 hydrants in the Eldersburg/Sykesville area.
"They basically attach to our fire hydrants, and they re-affirm that stealing water from hydrants is theft," said Watcher.
Replacing a hydrant can run about $1,500, which can raise the thefts to the level of felonies for violators, not to mention the cost to public safety if a faulty hydrant costs someone their life during a fire.