It has been 40 years since Las Vegas suffered the third deadliest fire in modern U.S. history when 85 people perished in a Las Vegas Strip casino fire. Less than three months later another deadly hotel fire occurred, spurring Nevada lawmakers to enact some of the toughest fire safety and building sprinkler regulations in the nation.
Today, mandated fire sprinkler and suppression systems, as well as a cadre of Southern Nevada’s finest fire fighters, help save lives and reduce structural damage caused by local fires. The Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) ensures the water needed for these efforts is available through its well-maintained distribution system and by helping maintain, repair and replace fire hydrants, critical infrastructure supporting fire-fighting efforts.
More than 40,000 public fire hydrants—they’re the yellow ones; red hydrants are privately owned—are distributed strategically around LVVWD’s 300-plus-square-mile service area. The hydrants are fed by 6-inch pipeline laterals, allowing them to deliver up to 1,500 gallons of water a minute exactly where firefighters need it. At the LVVWD’s 24/7 Operations Center, technicians can operate water system pumps to help move water around the distribution system as needed to maintain sufficient pressure during fire-fighting events.
To help ensure hydrants perform when it matters most, the LVVWD partners with Clark County and City of Las Vegas fire departments to assist in the installation, inspection, repair and replacement of public fire hydrants.
Although hydrants rarely need to be replaced—the service life of a well-maintained unit can be 50 years or more—valves can stick and gaskets can leak, wasting water and reducing hydrant performance. To proactively address issues like this, the LVVWD coordinates with the fire departments to help keep public hydrants working reliably and efficiently. When it is time to cycle a fire hydrant out, a crew rolls in with heavy equipment to remove and replace the 400-pound hydrants.
Every so often, a fire hydrant comes to an untimely end thanks to a wayward motorist who plows over or into it. Unlike in the movies, however, dislodging a hydrant doesn’t usually create a geyser—the valve controlling the flow of water through the hydrant is located deep below ground, protecting it from damage.
To avoid interrupting service to residents and businesses during repairs, the LVVWD maintains isolation valves where each hydrant pipeline joins the water main that feeds it, allowing crews to shut off the supply to the hydrant without inconveniencing adjacent water customers. LVVWD staff also notifies the city and county fire departments before scheduled maintenance so they are aware of hydrants that will be out of service. Should a fire occur in that area, the fire department can dispatch the appropriate equipment such as additional water trucks, if needed.
“Fire protection is a coordinated effort between local fire departments, water utilities like LVVWD and private property owners with on-site fire suppression systems. By working together, we help save lives and reduce property damage caused by fires,” said Ron Lovely, an LVVWD Distribution Services supervisor.
Effective hydrant maintenance is only half of the equation. The other key to fire protection lies in the buildings themselves and is the responsibility of the property managers and building owners. Modern building code requires that commercial structures have a built-in fire suppression system to help keep small fires from becoming large ones.
While the costs associated with installing and maintaining these systems are not insignificant, on-site fire suppression systems represent a relatively modest investment in the protection of property and, in many cases, life. On-site fire suppression systems must be maintained and regularly tested by property owners to assure their effectiveness. Given the infrequency of their use, system components can freeze up or fail, rendering the system less efficient or, in severe cases, entirely ineffective if not properly managed.
Annual inspections and testing by certified fire safety professionals are intended to confirm that the system is free of corrosion, foreign materials or physical damage. Additionally, they may identify potential obstruction issues, such as when cabinets, shelves or other hardware is installed in a way that inhibits the sprinklers’ ability to function properly. There are also instances in which customers close an on-site valve, inadvertently reducing available fire flow. Property owners or—if allowed by local code—their designee (property management company, tenant, etc.) must maintain records both related to inspections and the systems themselves.
For more information about the LVVWD’s water system, visit lvvwd.com.