A simple new approach to maintaining fire hydrants, pioneered by Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, is saving fire services and water companies millions of pounds a year.
Instead of being replaced at a cost of about £650 each when they seize up and cannot be opened, hydrants are now being repaired for as little as £2 using a spray-on oil originally developed for food production lines.
The breakthrough was made following a challenge to current practice, and the water industry's perception that a regulation brought in 10 years ago by the Drinking Water Inspectorate was prohibitive.
Water officer Greg Edwards and hydrant technicians Frank Mayhew and Paul Lillycrop worked with water quality scientists and a firm of lubrication specialists to prove that the oil complied with the legislation.
Greg Edwards, said: "A fire engine will carry an initial amount of water to a fire, after which an additional supply is needed. In an emergency, hydrants have to work first time.
"There are 13,500 hydrants in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes under our remit, and in 2008 we had to replace them at the rate of about one a week. The annual cost was £30,000.
"If something expensive rusted up at home you'd put some oil on it rather than dispose of it and buy a new one, but of course it's not that simple when public health is at stake."
Greg and his team sought advice from the United Kingdom Petroleum Industry Association, who introduced them to Yorkshire-based Klüber Lubricants. One of their products is synthetic oil in an aerosol can, approved for use in the food industry.
Greg said: "At this point Klüber became more of a partner with Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service than a supplier, and we submitted samples of oils and supporting product certifications to the water quality scientists at Anglian Water and Veolia Water. They felt it prudent to make their own assessment and were then able to agree in writing."
At the end of 2008 the team conducted trials on 11 seized hydrants, which would have cost a total of more than £7,000 to replace. The success rate was 100 per cent and the cost just £20.
There are now 23 fire services and 13 water companies in the UK using the oil, which has been nicknamed 'magic spray', with savings of around £2 million a year in the fire sector alone. The project is now being expanded to the other 35 fire services in the UK and to other parts of Europe.
Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service Area Manager Darryl Keen, said: "I'm very proud of the part we have played in introducing a practice that's simple, effective and saving everyone a fortune. It just goes to show what can happen when groups of specialists work together to solve a problem.
"We have already saved £60,000 on hydrant maintenance in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes, which we have been able to spend directly on services that help make the people we serve safer."
Technical sales consultant Bill Diggins from Klüber said: "Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service has developed a proactive maintenance plan that delivers significant benefits in hard cash savings and improved water availability.
"It did this by taking a step back and asking, 'Why do we need to replace these hydrants?' and, 'Is there an effective alternative at lower cost that can be evaluated?'
"The leadership and drive shown by Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service in hydrant repair and release has been replicated in a number of brigades across the UK."
Posted: 11.35am, 10.03.11