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The Folly of an Open Fire Hydrant

2014 July 28

By Elias Rodriguez

NYC now offers spray caps for a safe and legal way to play with the water from fire hydrants.

NYC now offers spray caps for a safe and legal way to play with the water from fire hydrants.

There were three public pools within walking distance of the Manhattan apartment where I grew up, but the long lines and adult supervision were a drag for an inner-city kid looking for fun and games. On sweltering, muggy days nothing was as attractive or exciting as the news that someone had (illegally!) opened a New York City fire hydrant in my neighborhood.

The most frequent location for this crime was a low traffic street where my school – closed for the summer – was located. Usually, some big looking kid sporting a mustache, would use some sort of special wrench to crank open the fire hydrant and word would quickly spread that our instant water park was open for mayhem. Ice cold plumes would rapidly flood the street sweeping kids along with dirt, cans, bottle caps, glass, and assorted debris towards the storm drain. An improvised device, usually a soup can opened at both ends, would serve to guide the high pressure cascade of water. Even as a precocious minor, I suspected this was wrong because everyone would skedaddle as soon as the police or fire department would show up to shut off the water.

Little did I comprehend that I was a juvenile accessory to delinquent behavior. With education and the benefit of several decades of maturity, I now realize that opening a fire hydrant is not just a serious crime, it’s irresponsible and puts people’s lives at risk. Water is a precious and limited resource.

An illegally opened fire hydrant lowers pressure that firefighters need in case of a fire. A single hydrant opened in this hazardous way can release over 1,000 gallons of water per minute. That’s enough wasted water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than half a day! Indeed, the pressure would topple most of us and injuries were common. This was a diversion at a cost that I did not appreciate at the time. The unauthorized opening of fire hydrants is harmful to our own communities. A further disincentive is the penalty. The perpetrator could face fines of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 30 days.

There is no excuse to commit this offense. In fact, the City has an easy way for people to request the installation of a spray cap on a fire hydrant for a controlled release of water. Among the lessons here is to never underestimate the resourcefulness of a bored pre-teen male. Hopefully this blog entry will dissuade someone from the idea that opening a fire hydrant is a victimless crime.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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