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Date of Issue: August 13, 2008

Thieves target metal on fire hydrants

With the price of copper climbing to five times what it was in 2003, thieves have begun targeting metal objects, particularly the brass bolt used to anchor a fire hydrant. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.

A Holmes Beach resident reported last week that someone had taken the brass fitting on a fire hydrant in the 6600 block of Holmes Boulevard.

While that’s only an isolated incident in this district, according to West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price, several fire districts in the county have had a rash of brass thefts.

“Other districts have had issues with this theft,” said Price. “It’s all over the county and in other places as well. We’ve been aware of the issue for some time, but we don’t know if this one was stolen or not.”

Price said it’s possible that the fitting could have been removed by a contractor testing the water pressure, but who forgot to replace the nut.

When the brass fitting is removed, the hydrant fails to operate properly, said Price.

A recent Associated Press story noted that thieves in McLean, Va., had stolen all five brass fittings from the hydrants on one street. When a fire broke out at a house on the street, firefighters were left with an empty hose as they watched helplessly as the fire consumed the structure.

Fire officials then inspected all fire hydrants in the county, the AP said, and found nearly four dozen had been stripped of their brass fittings.

At about $10 per fitting at any junkyard, thieves have found an easy way to get quick cash, the story noted.

Other locations named in the story where brass fittings to hydrants have been stolen were Chicago, Elmira, N.Y., Columbia, S.C., and parts of West Virginia.

 Thieves have also stolen the brass fittings and plaques from headstones in graveyards, in rest rooms and from church altars, the AP said.

Price said WMFR officials are going to inspect all hydrants in the district.

“We would be able to spot a missing nut,” Price said.

Hydrants can be fitted with a locking cap to prevent any theft of the brass, he added.

The AP story said the price for brass has doubled in the past year and is now about five times higher than it was in 2003.