In a matter of seconds, a dry Christmas tree can become fully engulfed in fire, a hazard that Rockford Fire Chief Michele Pankow says can happen with holiday decorations that use electricity.
“[It can be a] short circuit. Maybe there’s something, like the wire has some sort of nick or something in it that allows it to spark, [or] animals chew lights or light strands,” he said.
Getting to those fires can prove difficult for firefighters, since the winter weather makes it difficult for the fire department to clear snow from the roughly 6,000 fire hydrants throughout the city.
“When we can’t get to a fire hydrant, obviously, it delays access to that water supply, so trying to keep those areas around the hydrants clean and cleared out is always helpful,” Pankow said.
Rockford Public Works Director Mark Stockman says that responsibility, typically, falls on the business or resident who lives closest to the hydrant.
“Ultimately, we’d like to see property owners keep these hydrants clear, to the extent that they can,” Stockton said. “It’s in their own best interest to have an operating hydrant available, in the event that they have a fire.”
Tom Butler lives in Rockford’s Haight Village neighborhood. He says most of the neighborhood’s hydrants haven’t been cleared of snow.
“If you have a fire hydrant in front of your house, you’re supposed to clear the snow away from it, or at least, you should,” he said.
It is recommended that residents clear up to three feet of snow from the hydrant. For those who are physically unable to, the Rockford Fire Department says they are only a phone call away.
“There could be a scenario where they are unable to do it, for whatever reason. They certainly can give us a call as well, to let us know, ‘hey, there’s a hydrant here [that] we don’t know that it’s accessible.”