Public safety officials: slow down on roads, clear snow around hydrants

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - Marshalltown firefighter Christian Case clears the snow around a fire hydrant in northern Marshalltown Thursday.

As winter wears on in Central Iowa, many are finding themselves wishing for a break in the cold, snowy, icy conditions.

That will have to wait, as yet another bout of winter weather is set to befall Marshalltown this weekend. In the meantime, public safety officials offered tips to stay safe in the bad weather.

Hitting the road

Taking a drive down one of the area’s four-lane highways will reveal cars, trucks and SUVs that have slid into the ditch or median over the last several weeks. Marshall County Sheriff Steve Hoffman said such accidents have kept his department busy.

“Fortunately, we haven’t any cases that come to mind with serious injury,” he said of accidents within the county.

However, there have been some close calls, including a sheriff’s deputy patrol truck that was hit by another vehicle while the deputy was helping another driver last week.

“Across the state, there seems to be an unexplained increase in the frequency of those occurrences this year,” Hoffman said of similar accidents. “Over the course of my career, we’ve probably had five or six (patrol) vehicles that have been struck on the side of the road.”

Whether it’s a patrol vehicle, maintenance truck or citizen’s vehicle, Hoffman said it is important that drivers move to the other lane on four-way highways when they approach a vehicle on the side of the road.

“The law requires them to move over and slow down,” he said of drivers on the road. “Even if people believe they’re in compliance with the move over part, they still need to comply with the slow down part.”

Another trend Hoffman said he has noticed this winter is the number of four-wheel-drive and all-wheel drive vehicles that spun off the road. He said drivers of such vehicles need to remain cautious and not go faster than the situation allows.

“I don’t think people can hear it enough,” Hoffman said.

Other tips include preparing for the unexpected. That means packing extra clothing layers and blankets when hitting the road during poor weather conditions in order to stay protected from the elements while help arrives.

Drivers should also double-check to make sure their headlights are on when visibility is poor.

Overall, Hoffman said the most important thing for all drivers to do in poor weather conditions is slow down. He said the few seconds or minutes added to the trip are not worth taking a life because of lack of caution.

Making way for fire crews

Winter conditions can make one want to come inside and warm up next to a space heater or fireplace. That can increase the risk of fires, and Marshalltown Deputy Fire Chief Christopher Cross said it is imperative that crews have access to nearby fire hydrants.

“According to (city) code, it’s the property owner’s responsibility to keep it clean, just as it is to make sure it’s not obstructed by vegetation or debris,” he said of the hydrants.

While some citizens have ensured their hydrants are clear, fire department crews have been making their way through several neighborhoods to clear off fire hydrants buried in snow.

“We’ll just patrol a neighborhood back and forth and look for hydrants that we can’t access the steamer connection on,” Cross said. “We’ll chop a tunnel or a trench from the snow bank to the hydrant.”

He said the steamer, a 4.5-inch cap on the front of the hydrant, produces a lot of water needed for big hoses to put out fires.

Cross said the fire department will come by to help clear a fire hydrant if the owner of the property is unable to move the snow.

Inside the home, Cross said it is important residents practice caution with any heating device.

“When people start pulling out sources of combustion and heating equipment, the prospect of (fires) rises,” he said. “Those space heaters draw a lot of electricity … and could overload an outlet. Make sure that you give yourself enough buffer, but also make sure that’s the only thing into your outlet if possible.”

Cross also said to keep combustible materials away from heating devices.


Contact Adam Sodders at

(641) 753-6611 or