Thursday, February 17, 2005

Digging his way out

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Feb 17, 2005): Deen Kirchner wanted some company this winter. The Scarborough 12-year-old has "adopted" a fire hydrant for each of the past three winters, and wants everyone in town to do the same.

After big snowstorms, Kirchner shovels snow away from the fire hydrant across the street from his house, which helps firefighters respond more quickly to emergencies.
It takes firefighters about 45 seconds to hook up a hose to a hydrant, Kirchner said. But if they have to dig the hydrant out from under the snow, it can take as long as two minutes -- an eternity for someone whose house is on fire, or who is trapped inside.

Just down the street is another hydrant that regularly gets buried by storms and plows.

"I tried to convince my friend Eric," who lives down the street, to adopt that one, Kirchner said. But it didn't work, so Kirchner is thinking about adopting it as well.

He has encouraged other family members to help him out with "his" hydrant, and after last week's big storm, he got a neighbor to come by with a pickup and a plow to clear away the big mess around the hydrant.

Kirchner, now in sixth grade, started three years ago, after his mother heard about an "adopt-a-hydrant" program in South Portland, where residents were asked to take a few extra minutes while clearing their walks and driveways, to dig out hydrants as well.

"There's not really anything else for kids to volunteer," Kirchner said. A lot of local non-profits are happy to have young people volunteer, but require them to be 13 or older.

"I want to help," Kirchner said.

He also carefully removes any ice from around the fixtures. He said it takes about 20 minutes for him to fix up the hydrant, though he is a fastidious worker and checks back regularly to ensure that warm temperatures and passing vehicles haven't conspired to cover any portion of the hydrant.

He has even brought a degree of engineering to the task. He knows which direction the town plow usually comes from, and keeps that side clearer. That way, the snowplow dumps its load of snow before the hydrant and doesn't cover the hydrant itself.

He keeps an eye on the weather, so he knows when his work will be needed. "When I wake up, I look outside," Kirchner said.

He eats his breakfast in front of the local TV news. And when a big storm is on the way, he makes sure his tools are ready, except this last time.

He forgot to put his shovel upright in a tall snowbank, and after the storm, had to spend 10 minutes looking for it. He eventually found it on the ground, "under all the snow," near the grill.

He also knows how to handle his workload. "When I'd get tired, I'd build a couch" to sit on and rest.