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Eugene replaces last fire hydrant made in city

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By Edward Russo
Eugene Register-Guard
EUGENE, Ore. -- The fire hydrant in south Eugene had served its purpose since 1948, helping fight fires and enduring countless dog visits.
But last week, a Eugene Water & Electric Board crew pulled hydrant No. 287 from the corner of 18th Avenue and Van Buren Street.
Replacing a fire hydrant that's obsolete or hard to maintain is routine for the Eugene Fire Department. However, this fixture represented a part of local firefighting and manufacturing history.
Made by Eugene Foundry & Machine, it was the last locally made hydrant to be removed from service in the city.
"It's the last hydrant made in this town, and it's served the community for a long time," said Don Gleason, an equipment technician with the fire department.
Eugene has about 4,700 fire hydrants inside the city limits, Gleason said.
Years ago, the city had several hydrants in service made by now-defunct Eugene Foundry & Machine and Eugene Ironworks, Gleason said. But as they wore out over the years, the locally made hydrants slowly were replaced by stubby fixtures made by more than a dozen manufacturers in other cities.
There's more to fire hydrants than what people normally see, Gleason said.
The top 3 feet of the 150-pound fixtures are above ground, but a large-diameter pipe extends another 4 feet underground, connecting hydrants to water mains.
Fire engines have 500-gallon water tanks, but it doesn't take long to use up that supply. So firefighters depend on hydrants to provide fire hoses with water, Deputy Fire Chief Joe Zaludek said.
Six years ago, in a major fire at Gheen Irrigation Works in north Eugene, firefighters were drawing thousands of gallons of water simultaneously from four hydrants, he said.
Now that it's been retired, the fate of the Eugene Foundry & Machine hydrant is undetermined.
The old hydrant is being stored with about 50 others in a yard outside the fire department's logistics building at Second Avenue and Chambers Street.
The fire department sells old hydrants to the public for $100.
Firefighters or people who like hydrants for yard art are typical buyers, Zaludek said.
"Some people buy them for their dogs," he said. "Some people buy them for lawn ornaments."
The fire department also donates hydrants to official nonprofit groups, such as the Greenhill Humane Society, Gleason said. Nonprofit agencies typically repaint hydrants and raffle them off in fundraisers, he said.
New fire hydrants cost the city about $1,600 apiece.
A new, modern hydrant is expected to replace No. 287 at 18th and Van Buren in the next week, Gleason said. But the replacement will have been made in Anniston, Ala., or some other city with a hydrant factory, not in Eugene.
"It's the end of an era," Gleason said.

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