a boom truck with a boom extended into the pond behind it connected to a hose that is connected to a fire truck with the overlaid title Securing Non-Traditional Water Sources
September 10, 2020

Securing Non-Traditional Water Sources

Types of Non-Domestic Water Sources

a firetruck with a hose connected

Knowing where the water is available to you is critical in emergencies. When regular domestic water sources such as hydrants and support trucks are not available, crews must be ready to take action and locate a reliable supply of water or create their own. This article explores what non-traditional water source options are available, both natural and human made. 


Nearby ponds can offer some relief for fire departments in a pinch. Although they are usually a small source of water used for water drainage, you can establish some fire suppression response while waiting for backup. It is a good idea to create a record of ponds in your territory. By having knowledge of available ponds and what volume of water they may have to work with, fire departments can have a more complete picture of what non-traditional water sources are available to them.

This information is possible to obtain when working with the pond's landowner to be granted permission to use their water source in the event of an emergency. Due to fluctuating water levels and chances of freezing during colder weather, ponds are not an entirely reliable source. 

Swimming Pools

Another potential water source is swimming pools. Pools are an increasingly common source of water for fire protection. For heavy fire department vehicles, a significant problem can be accessibility. Lightly built cement, granite, or poured concrete pools can present the danger of structural damage, cracking or collapse when approached by trucks, or the water is being pumped out, which removes support for the pool's walls. During extended wet weather, there is also the danger that a drained pool will tend to float upward, pushed by the wet soil. The water supply officer will need to study these varying factors for each pool being considered for emergency use.

Streams, Rivers, and Canals

Flowing streams, rivers, and irrigation canals can be an opportunity for a continuous supply of water. However, just as with ponds, climate conditions vastly affect the effectiveness of these sources. With this in mind, fire departments can use other methods to create their water supply when domestic ones are not available. 

Creating Your Own Sources

Another method that fire departments utilize to make other water sources available is to install cisterns and dry hydrants. These can provide a more reliable source to help put out flames. 


Cisterns are a great source of water to have in an emergency. This storage structure is commonly buried close to structures. Reservoirs and drainage systems are arranged to capture excess rainwater and channel it the cisterns. This water source will help assure a full supply whenever needed, assuming sufficient rainfall. The system is also convenient in the winter, as it is stored below the ground. 

One great example of cisterns providing an alternative water source is the San Francisco Fire Department's Auxiliary Water Supply System (AWSS). AWSS is a large extended network of water reservoirs, pump stations, cisterns, suction connections, and fireboats. The support system of 177 independent cisterns are dotted throughout the city and suburbs. San Fransisco's cisterns were built in response to the 7.9 magnitude earthquake of 1906. In total, the city's cisterns have a storage capacity of 11 million gallons. 

Dry Hydrants

A better solution is to install a network of dry hydrants, and it is a solution that more fire departments around the country are adopting. A dry hydrant is a non-pressurized pipe that's placed in a pond, lake, stream, or cistern, and is used to pull water through suction into a water tender.

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