Scouts paint way to Eagle rank

Armed with brushes, teens ferret out fire hydrants

Mirror photo by Sean Sauro / Local Boy Scouts Jared Markel (left) and Isaiah Freet, both 15, scrub a fire hydrant Friday at the intersection of Union Avenue and 27th Street. The duo planned to paint the hydrant, one of about 2,000, during an ongoing Eagle Scout project.

Armed with wire brushes and a large, metal wrench, two area teens took to the corner of Union Avenue and 27th Street, working to scrub away the rust spreading across a faded red-and-yellow fire hydrant.

Soon, a fresh layer of paint would be applied to that hydrant, part of an effort to restore about 2,000 hydrants across Blair County.

Isaiah Freet and Jared Markel, both 15 years old, and their family members aim to paint each one, working together to complete two separate Eagle Scout projects.

The teens typically work separately in different parts of the city, but, last week, they worked together.

As few as five or as many as 40 hydrants can be painted per day, they said.

“It just varies,” Freet said, explaining work is largely dependent on the weather.

The sky was blue shortly after 10 a.m. as the teens, wearing bright yellow-and-orange vests and paint-spattered jeans and shoes, gathered equipment from the bed of an equally paint-stained pickup truck.

The project spans much of Blair County, and the teens, who are not yet old enough to drive, rely on their parents and older relatives for transportation.

On Monday, that transportation came from Markel’s parents — Kathy and Dan. Kathy Markel explained the fuel had been the biggest of the project’s expenses.

Fundraising is used to cover expenses, but the paint, which “can be pricey,” was donated by local officials, Dan Markel said. Different colors are applied to hydrants in different parts of the county, he said, explaining the colors are used to show different water pressures.

Regardless of color, it can sometimes take as long as 15 minutes to repaint a single hydrant, Jared Markel said.

“You start getting faster throughout the day,” he said.

Hydrants that have been partially buried by landscapers or overgrown with weeds can be especially time consuming, said Dan Markel, who keeps a number of tools in his truck to help clear debris.

Other hydrants can be hard to find, Dan Markel said, revealing he and his son once arrived at a hydrant to find local residents had disguised it as a Minion — a yellow, dome-like cartoon character from the popular “Despicable Me” movies.

Once, the Markels had to drive through a field and trudge through the woods to find a hydrant in an undeveloped area. Still, they gave it a new coating of paint. Dan Markel joked his son was able to “make it pretty for the chipmunks, anyway.”

And Freet said he and his family members also have had trouble locating certain hydrants. The teens are equipped with maps and numbered hydrant lists, but they’ve found that numbers have little to do with hydrant locations.

“My favorite are the ones down dead-ends,” Freet said sarcastically.

The teens began their painting projects last October, but last week, they said they were unsure when their work will be complete.

At the project’s conclusion, the teens, who belong to Boy Scout Troop 25, will have to present their work to a group of officials, who will determine whether they have achieved the Eagle Scout rank — the Boy Scouts of America’s highest.

“You have to do a whole spreadsheet, figure out all the work and make a presentation,” Jared Markel said.

In the meantime, they will continue to paint hydrants, sometimes near dangerous roadways. The teens said they operate with safety in mind, and emergency responders, including a local fire chief, have commended their work.

“He came out and talked to me and told me how good it was,” Freet said of his exchange with a local chief.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.