Many may shake their heads at the notion, but playing in the fire hydrant as a youth was one of my fondest and funnest memories.
During the summer months, when temperatures climbed to unbearable levels, playing in the fire hydrant brought all the kids on the block together and was a great summer reprieve for those of us who had limited access to sprinklers or a pool.
However, soon the practice was shut down. We didn't know it then as children, but the unauthorized opening of a fire hydrant was wasteful and dangerous: illegally opened hydrants can lower water pressure and put lives at risk if there is a fire.
Children can also be at serious risk, because the powerful force of an open hydrant without a spray cap can knock a child down, causing serious injury (and I have seen this injury happen several times, myself).
Also, firefighters need adequate water pressure to put out fires. Opening a hydrant without a spray cap lowers water pressure and can hinder firefighting by reducing the flow of water to hoses and pumps. The reduction of water pressure resulting from illegally opened hydrants can also cause problems at hospitals and other medical facilities.
However, hydrants can be opened legally in New York City, if equipped with a spray cap. One illegally opened hydrant generally releases more than 1,000 gallons of water per minute. “[The cap] reduces the water pressure from 1,000 gallons of water per minute to about 20 gallons per minute,” says FDNY spokesman Paul Iannizzotto.
To legally pop open a fire hydrant, head to the nearest fire station and ask for a free spray cap. Requesting permission is important: Not only will the firefighters help you install the cap, you’ll also avoid getting slapped with a $1,000 fine. No advance planning is necessary; simply show a form of ID proving you’re over 18.
So if you want to help the kids on your block to experience a little "back in the day" play like the kind you remember, it's okay. Just make sure you keep it legal.
*This is a re-print of an article that ran in Bed-Stuy Patch on July 7, 2011