With the summer heat killing everyone, all you want to do is cool off in a pool and stay there all day. Those who can’t go to the pool, go to the nearest fire hydrant that is open. Walking past seeing the kids play and get soaked looks refreshing.
The only problem is the people cooling themselves don’t know that they are wasting water that could be used to put out a fire. If a house is on fire the day after a fire hydrant was open pouring thousands of gallons of water out, when the firefighters come and open the fire hydrants, the possibility of little water coming out is high. Opening a fire hydrant without asking a firefighter is illegal and is called uncapping. People who do this could receive a fine of $1,000 or 30 days in jail.
Uncapping fire hydrants, started with the “Great Heat Wave of 1896,” which lasted 10 days, according to 6sqft. The hydrants were opened to cool down the streets and help wash away the garbage piling up. Kids enjoyed playing and people continued uncapping fire hydrants more often, but later on many complained that water was being wasted.. After this uncapping was no longer legal throughout the twentieth century. In the late 1950s, six city agencies met up to come up with a solution to uncapping fire hydrants illegally. They agreed to distribute free spray caps which released only 25 to 28 gallons per minute versus as much as 1700 gallons per minute without the cap. This is better for the community as it saves water in case there is ever an emergency.
The uncapping of fire hydrants is tolerated by the city when temperatures climb above 90 degrees, because not all pools can take everyone. It benefits people because hydrants are much closer to their house and they don’t have to wait in line. During the heatwave in NYC that lasted for three days July 19-21 allowed the uncapping of fire hydrants. The temperature was above 95 degrees, but it felt like 107 according to a New York Times article.
Uncapping mostly happens in large neighborhoods with a higher percentage of people living on lower incomes. Hell’s Kitchen, the Lower East Side, the SouthSide of Williamsburg, Bushwick, BedStuy, Jackson Heights, and Woodhaven are among the city’s uncapping hotspots according to 6sqft.
In Corona, Queens five fire hydrants were opened all day on July 20. Kids were playing, getting all soaked and the parents were talking to their neighbors. “The kids are having fun and running around, it’s good, especially with this type of weather,” said a mom who was sitting outside her building while her two kids were enjoying themselves with the water. Another mom added “It’s better than being inside with the kids on their phones and tablets all day.”
Now spray caps are not being used, the problem of overflowing water is back. Gallons of water are being released and wasted because people don’t know that if you go to a local fire station, a fireman will install or lend you a spray cap.