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Dear Matt:

I'm moving into a new gated community. What I want to know is, how will the fire department get in if there's a fire? Do they have keys to every gated community? To every house? I need to know.

-- New Homeowner, the net

Heymatt:

What's with the decorative paint job on fire hydrants? Some are white, some are yellow. And white and yellow ones can be just across the street from one another. Is there a reason for this?

-- Wondering, the net

While the dog was eating my homework, he also ate the originals of these questions. But I've got the gist anyway. And I think we have the gist of some answers too. Luckily, a few days ago Pa Alice's barbecue exploded and burned down Grandma's gazebo, so I collared one of the firefighters for the inside scoop. It's always easier when the information comes to me rather than having to chase it myself.

So you're moving to a place that is set up to keep the bad guys out, but what about the good guys? Well, it's as simple as a Knox-Box. Somewhere beside your main gate(s) is a metal plate with a keyhole and maybe some other doohickeys. The fire stations in your district have a master key that fits the Knox-Box and will open your sliding gate and lock it in that position until the emergency is over. Inside the Knox-Box will be keys to every house in the development (or maybe blueprints to a large commercial building), so if your house is on fire and you're not home, they don't have to destroy your door to get in. By law gated developments and commercial property with a gate that closes across a vehicle entry must have a Knox-Box. If you live in a single-family home that's gated but only has a pedestrian entry, firefighters have a piece of equipment that will bust out the gate lock. One way or another, the good guys will be able to access your flaming investment.

Color-coded hydrants tell many tales. Black means it's out of service. Red means it's on private property. White and yellow indicate different levels of water pressure. Different types of fires (brush vs. structure, for example) call for different methods of attack. Knowing the gallons per minute that a hydrant puts out allows them to tweak their equipment to match the requirements of the situation. The more information they have going in, the more efficiently they can fight the fire.

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