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Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017
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Plant City employee ensures firefighters don't run dry

PLANT CITY - Billie Garcia doesn't dash into burning houses to put out blazes, but she plays a key supporting role. Garcia's full-time job is maintaining the city's 1,300 fire hydrants. She makes sure that when firefighters turn a hydrant's valve, the water flows. "If we can't count on a supply of water, we can't do our jobs," said Jim Wilson, division chief for emergency medical services at Plant City Fire Rescue. "It can literally mean the difference between life and death." Firefighters know they can rely on Garcia to keep hydrants in working order.
"We are blessed to have many unsung heroes in Plant City like her who do their jobs, not for the recognition but because they know that others depend on them." Garcia, 63, has been making her rounds of the city's hydrants for more than 20 years. "She knows them all by heart," said Wayne Abercrombie, her supervisor at the city's Utilities Maintenance Division. Garcia is so thorough that companies that supply fire hydrants and hydrant parts sometimes mention how well Garcia does her job, Abercrombie said. Maintaining the city's fire hydrants is a behind-the-scenes job, but an important one. Garcia regularly flushes, greases and paints hydrants and repairs those damaged in wrecks, such as one recently hit by a car on Frontage Road. "It takes a year to get to them all," she said. "I paint them and make sure they work properly and look nice." Each fire hydrant has an assigned number, so the city can keep track of them. The oldest one was placed into service in 1969. They are replaced as parts wear out or get corroded from contact with the chlorinated water. For the most part, Garcia works alone, although now that she's older, she sometimes needs help lifting a heavy part. For routine maintenance, she can complete her work on each hydrant in about 30 minutes – assuming there are no complications, such as broken parts. Garcia comes from a colorful background. Born in Alamosa, Colo., she moved to Arizona as a youngster when her father, a teacher, got a job in Buckeye. Her first love was music, and she played in the high school band. As an adult, she played drums with several country music bands and traveled extensively. "I spent 14 years on the road, and I got tired of it. After I got off the road, it was time to get a real job," said Garcia, who still plays drums on weekends. Garcia held several part-time jobs until she was hired by the city on Oct. 9, 1990. She spent a few months working on water lines before being assigned to maintain hydrants. She enjoys her work and has no immediate plans to retire. She particularly likes the role she plays in public safety. "You're here to serve the community and help keep people safe," she said. "Keeping people safe is what I enjoy the most."

dnicholson@tampatrib.com (813) 394-5103

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