There’s a saying in the countryside that the fire department is great at saving cellar holes, and insurance premiums covering backwoods homes reflect that pessimism. The combination of woodstoves, snow-covered roads, and widely scattered volunteer fire fighters make insurance underwriters edgy. And winter is not the only dangerous season. A few summers back, a squad of local firefighters raced out to a blazing house, hooked the hose to the tank truck, and… nothing. Someone had forgotten to fill the truck with water. Luckily there was a pond nearby.
A pond can be a rural homeowners’ best fire insurance policy. A general purpose pond as small as one tenth of an acre, nine feet deep at the dam, holds approximately 100,000 gallons. That’s more than enough to save most homes — if the truck gets there in time. But to make a homestead even safer, consider an on-site delivery system.
If the pond is sited above your buildings, gravity and a good piping system can deliver the water you need. Many an old farm was served by an upslope pond and gravity-feed water line that supplied irrigation and livestock water as well as fire protection. Water picks up pressure at roughly half a pound per vertical foot, so a decent fire stream of 70 pounds pressure requires at least 140 feet of “head.” Of course, it’s possible to do with less.
If your pond is not sited high enough for gravity-feed, or you simply want a more reliable system, you can use an electric or gas powered pump. Centrifugal or pressure pumps can deliver more than 100 gallons a minute through 1.5 inch hose. Before you invest in a pond fire fighting system, contact your local fire department or equipment suppliers for help in choosing the right equipment and design for your situation. Be sure to take into consideration where and how the pump should be housed and maintained. Keep in mind that when there’s a fire the household electricity may shut down, which may argue for a gas powered pump, or a separate electric line.
As an alternative to your own pumping system, or as a backup, consider a “dry” hydrant. This is the most popular pond owner’s fire fighting setup. A dry hydrant is a freeze-proof tap into the pond. Basically it looks like a street hydrant, but without pressurized water. It needs a fire fighting pump truck to arrive, hook up, and start pumping.
The dry hydrant is piped into a deep area in the pond basin, and sited for convenient access for the fire truck.
In the north, that means keeping the truck access route plowed in winter. Pond hydrants are often installed during construction of a new pond, or they can be added later. Sometimes your local fire department can help with installation and parts; some states offer funding for hydrant installation. Making the pond available for fighting neighborhood fires may be a requirement for getting town or state installation help.
A pond equipped with a hydrant provides potential fire protection, and may also qualify you for lower household insurance rates; and if the hydrant is available for community use, your town taxes may be reduced.
Adapted from the Earth Ponds Sourcebook: The Pond Owner’s Manual and Resource Guide, by Tim Matson