Blue Spreckle Silliness

It’s been a cold windy August day in Anchorage.  Being a good Alaskan,  my thoughts immediately turned to my favorite winter hangout, Hawaii.    And when I think Hawaii, I occasionally ruminate on one of my favorite government waste issues, blue spreckles.

I was raised in Hawaii and I still have family there.   I have been walking a neighborhood in Manoa Valley in Honolulu for some 50 years now.  I have become a Manoa Valley blue spreckle expert.   Whaaat, you ask?

I suppose I should begin by describing a Spreckle.

Well, it’s a word I think I  made up some 30 years ago, but my wife insists she has heard it from others in Hawaii and I borrowed it.   OK, well maybe.  The word refers to 4 inch square reflective markers placed in highway road surfaces.    Here is a picture of a blue one provided by a supplier on his web site.

In the USA and Australia  blue spreckles are used to mark fire hydrants.  They are placed in a visible spot in the roadway so the fire department will know there’s a hydrant nearby.

I first began noticing them about 30 years ago.

These devises are supposed to help firemen find hydrants.   My question:   Do firemen regularly have difficulty finding hydrants?  Is this problem worthy of government expenditure?

My family has lived in the same house in Manoa since 1962 and I have seen the blue spreckle near the hydrant in front our house replaced at least 3 times. The life cycle of the spreckle seems to be about 10 years.   For the first few years after installation it sits there as a shiny reminder to us all that a hydrant is near. One day it gets damaged.   I don’t know what happens…but older paved roads frequently have many many spreckleless hydrants.   The spreckle will sit unrepaired for several years.  Eventually the spreckle is replaced, perhaps as a part of a city wide speckle replacement program.

Any given spreckle probably has a 50 to 70% chance of being operable at any given time.   So…if you were a firemen racing to a fire…..would you look for the spreckle….or would you just look for the hydrant….or would you do both?  Many firemen would be familiar with the area, and probably know the hydrant location in advance.    Perhaps the dispatcher has Google Earth and can give directions.

Do spreckles really save time?   How much time?   What is that time really worth?   Is there any time lost looking for spreckles that are not there?

If hydrants were used regularly and used regularly at night then the spreckle idea might have some merit.    Most hydrants are never used in an emergency, and most that are used are not particularly difficult to locate.    Spreckles don’t cost much (probably less than $30 each  installed), but, come on guys, in most cases they save no time.   I’d be willing to bet that they are useful less than 10% of  the time.

If every hydrant has it’s price increased by $120 (4 spreckles per hydrant) because of spreckles, is it worth it?  Each mile of waterline is going to have about 10 hydrants , so the cost for spreckles is about $1200 per mile of water main.   I’ll bet without knowing that only 1 in a 100 hydrants is ever used in an emergency …..if so the speckles cost $12,000 per incident.

That’s $12,000 per fire and the only possible benefit is a few seconds response time which may or may not exist.  If we assume there is a real benefit 10% of the time and the spreckle has a 70% chance of being there when needed, the cost per useful event goes from $12,000 to ((12,000*10)/.7)  or $171,000.

Up north in Alaska, we don’t use spreckles of any kind because the snow plows destroy them….and I’ll bet it has no impact on our fire insurance rates.

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