— Good Thinking
Sigelock's Spartan system re-invents the 100-year-old fire hydrant
To address the material weakness of traditional hydrants, Sigelakis chose to go with a stainless steel, ductile iron mix in his hydrant
The traditional fire hydrant, that innocuous little cast metal tube with a hat, is one of those everyday objects that is so commonplace most people tend to overlook them. For over 100 years this life saving device has changed little in terms of design or functionality, but now an ex-fire fighter hopes to change all that with his next generation Spartan fire hydrant.
According to ex-New York City firefighter/inventor, George Sigelakis, his next generation fire hydrant features a number of design updates that overcome some of the problems that have plagued traditional systems since their inception. In sub-arctic temperatures traditional systems can freeze and break, which in some cases has resulted in loss of life when firefighters couldn't find a working hydrant. The other inherent problem rests in the cast iron composition, which despite impressive longevity characteristics, can leak, freeze and break over time. So the solution according to the former firefighter was to completely reinvent the hydrant.
Sigelakis spent over 20 years designing and refining various fire hydrant prototypes until he came up with the current Spartan hydrant system. Inside the hydrant, Sigelakis completely reworked the internals so water can’t pool or freeze – one of the main causes of breakage in the traditional systems. And to avoid tampering and unwanted access, the hydrant’s nozzles, outlets, and operating nut were completely enclosed in the housing. To open the system, a specially designed opening tool and wrench are required. The system will actually clamp up tighter should someone attempt to access it illegally.
To address the material weakness of the traditional system, Sigelakis chose to go with a stainless steel, ductile iron mix in his hydrant. Both materials offer the Spartan system a high level of corrosion resistance, which is further enhanced by a special powder coating. That powder coating can be provided in a number of vibrant colors to match residential or commercial aesthetic requirements. Visually, the Sigelock hydrant resembles more of a cartoon-like periscope than it does a piece of serious fire fighting equipment.
Even though the system is designed to last 200 years according to the inventor, the downside to municipalities is the higher than usual cost-per-unit. Running about 20 percent more per hydrant than the typical outlet, the price could prove problematic for city’s working on tighter budgets, however, the projected lack of maintenance when amortized over a couple of centuries should more than cover the initial cash outlay.
The Sigelock system is currently undergoing real-world testing with 150 of the Spartan units in operation in 11 states across the US. The system was actually put to the test during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and passed with flying colors according to the designer.
About the Author
Born on the cold, barren Canadian plains of Calgary, Alberta, Angus MacKenzie couldn’t decide between marketing, automotives or an entrepreneurial path - so he chose all three. With an education in automotives and marketing, Angus has rebuilt the carburetor on his 1963 Rambler Ambassador twice, gotten a speeding ticket in an F430 once, and driven & photographed everything from Lamborghinis to Maseratis to various German and Asian designs. When not writing, Angus has for the past six years been Editor-in-Chief for elemente, an internationally recognized architecture/design magazine.
All articles by Angus MacKenzie
In the U.K. fire hydrants are below ground level, with access via a removable cover. As far as I am aware they function reliably and do not freeze. It might be possible that locating them has posed problems, but I don't know of any instances (not that I would, of course, other than that I don't know of any news reports of same). However, with GPS accuracy today, that shouldn't be a problem. I do know that they are checked regularly.
If it ain't broke don't fix it, and they use stainless steel for the head but cheap out and use bronze for the valve ? fail.
Gizmag comments typically follow a predictable path. Some guy will always denounce the design/new product/ better idea as garbage. Then he will list a list of why the product is junk. Some very few will praise the design, and say something positive; though this group is always in a minority.
Bronze is not a cheap or shoddy material for lots of applications and valves are certainly one of those excellent uses for bronze. Materials are chosen by competent engineers to make the best possible solution to any given problem. There are bronze valves still in regular use that were designed and built by Leonardo Da'Vinci and others during the renaissance. Bronze when used as a "plain" bearing or "bushing" carries tremendous loads and wears quite well in applications ranging from the bearings in you car alternator and starter motor to the primary bearings used to support drive shafts in lots of big things like ship drive shafts. Mr Sigelakis is aiming for a two hundred year service life and bronze valves faces are a great way to get there. Excellent material choice!
There are giant brass ball valves in the New York City water supply system that haven't been closed in nearly 100 years because the water department doesn't want to risk failure of the mechanism jamming them closed.
NYC has two water tunnels with a 3rd due to be completed in 2020. The first one was built (in service 1917), then the second (1936). The intent was to be able to alternately shut them off for maintenance but by the time the 2nd was done the city had grown so much both were needed full time.
Construction on the 3rd tunnel began in 1970. When completed one of the others will be shut down for very long overdue work, then the other one will have its turn. (Assuming that by 2020 NYC won't require the full capacity of all three tunnels full time!)
If it really is as tamper-resistant as claimed, there would be an additional benefit not mentioned. In hot weather, hydrants opened by people seeking fun and cooling spew thousands of gallons of water each, wasting a lot of water and reducing pressure in the system. Not to mention using pipe wrenches on the pentagonal nuts would damage them. This could finally put an end to that.
Not sure about the powdercoat, though. It will inevitably become scratched and otherwise damaged, and powdercoating, unlike painting, can't be done in the field, so it can't be refurbished onsite.
The New tunnel has brought water far enough that one of the old valves was removed and found to be in far better condition than anticipated. (The alloy was closer to specified than they thought and the way it was off improved the alloy for the purpose.) After care consideration the water department changed the position of several other valves to optimize flows without a problem. (It is rumored that three engineers found God during the process.)
This should aggravate those home dwellers with poor or no A/C in summer no end!
Although I can imagine a rash of access tool thefts from fire trucks or stations as soon as the same dwellers realise that is where to get the right tools!
He says if accessed illegally, it tightens up - I see, the old reverse-direction thread trick, eh?
In my Australian city the fire hydrants are underground with the cover painted bright yellow, and a reflectorized marker in the street adjacent to the hydrant.
We don't get any snowfalls though. :-)
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