Layyona Christian, 7, plays in an open fire hydrant in North Philadelphia. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro
It's a hot summer day in the city. Children, desperate for a way to have fun and keep cool, put on their bathing suits and approach their nearest fire hydrant. Upon opening the hydrant, it becomes a sprinkler and the result is a picture-perfect image of summer life in the city as kids frolic and play.
However, opening a fire hydrant comes at a cost financially and physically.
“When you illegally open a hydrant, it may be temporarily a relief from the summer heat but the long-term effects can be life-altering,” said Philadelphia Water Department Community Relations Manager John DiGiulio.
The long-term effects DiGiulio is referring to include knocking children into the path of oncoming cars, the hampering of firefighting efforts and the flooding of homes. Additionally, 60,000 gallons of water — the amount of water a household uses each year — are wasted each hour a fire hydrant is left open.
Additionally, those who illegally open a fire hydrant will be issued fines from $10 to $300 for repeated offenses, and a violator may also be liable to the City for any damages, said Laura Copeland, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Water Department.
DiGiulio said he has seen open hydrants several times while driving through the city. Since DiGiulio is aware of the dangers this poses, he has either gotten out of his car to turn it off himself or calls his office to have a crew dispatched to handle it.
“If you see something that you know can turn into a really bad situation — while it looks like a tremendous amount of fun to play in front of fire hydrants — you know the potential for danger,” DiGiulio said.
DiGiulio said there are “wonderful alternatives” to playing near a fire hydrant such as taking advantage of public pools, spray parks, libraries, museums and other programs that are free and open during the summer.
To combat the potential dangers of open hydrants, the Philadelphia Water Department operates a campaign called Hydrants are for Fires, Not for Fun.
"Hydrants are for fighting fires, not for recreation, and the risks involved with opening a hydrant illegally far outweigh any perceived benefit," Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug said in a statement.
Executive Chief Peter Crespo of the Philadelphia Fire Department says he does not know of any instances where death has occurred as the result of open hydrants, he does say the jobs of firefighters can be harder if multiple hydrants are left on within a two or three-block radius.
“It makes the suppression efforts that much more difficult,” Crespo said. “There hasn’t been any loss of life but the loss of property will be more extensive if we have less water and less water pressure to do our job.”
If you see an open hydrant or someone attempting to open one, you can report the incident anonymously to the Philadelphia Water Department by calling 215-685-6300.