Every one of us has seen it, on the news or in our favorite sitcom: a group of neighborhood kids beating a summer heatwave by opening a fire hydrant. Children in swimsuits or cut-offs and tees are oblivious to the heat rising from the blacktop as they play joyfully in the stream of cool water gushing endlessly from the hydrant. When it comes to urban living, some call this scene iconic. Not me. I call it ironic! As part of American Water’s summer of hydration, I’m using this blog to take us behind the scenes of what’s anything but a joyful summer tradition. Far from what we typically see when we drive down the street or watch the news, there are a number of dangers lurking behind the hydrants!
Let’s consider a fire hydrant’s main and vital purpose—being constantly available for firefighters to extinguish fires and prevent spreading to nearby properties. Opening even one hydrant for summer fun can greatly compromise a fire department’s ability to do its job. For our first responders, time is of the essence. If the hydrant is open, firefighters waste valuable time closing the hydrant then waiting for the water to completely stop flowing before they can hook up their hoses to fight the threatening blaze. On top of that, the water pressure may be weakened, making it harder and more time consuming to effectively reach and douse the flames.
There’s also the staggering effect that recreational hydrant use has on water conservation. A fire hydrant’s output is 1,000 gallons every minute! Even worse, many adults open the hydrants for kids, then walk away, leaving it open for hours. Then, where does the water drain? The water isn’t reused to water landscapes or anything like that. It flows down city streets and lawns, picking up debris, chemicals and who knows what else before flowing back into water systems.
Next, let’s take a peek at the inconvenience, annoyance and unexpected expenses that surrounding homes and businesses might suffer when a hydrant is left open. Again, where does all that water go? Onto other properties, where it can cause damage to landscapes and flood homes and buildings. Moreover, releasing water pressure via hydrants means less water pressure in those homes and buildings. Ever try taking a shower under just a trickle of water? There’s the annoyance factor!
Still not alarmed? Maybe jail time will give you a jolt! That’s right. Opening a fire hydrant without a permit is illegal. Depending on the jurisdiction, penalties can result in fines of up to $1,000, a jail sentence or both.
There’s a serious safety-related concern about opening fire hydrants without the proper permit, skill and supervision. Hydrants expel water at 100 mph, a force that will take people by surprise. This force can cause physical damage—especially to the young and elderly—knocking children or weaker adults down onto hard sidewalks and blacktop, pushing them onto the streets and traffic with numerous injuries and deaths reported annually.
Hopefully by now, you realize that cooling off by hydrant is a bad idea, dangerous, and life-threatening. My advice? Stick to the safe, environmentally responsible ways to stay cool during the summer: enjoy air conditioning at home, work and/or public spaces, such as museums and libraries; dive in to a private or municipal pool; and enjoy a nice cold drink of water (remember to always stay hydrated!). So, when the heat is on, be a hydration hero by discouraging cooling off by hydrant.