City hopes to curb illegal use of fire hydrants

May 27, 1994|By William Jay | William Jay,Contributing Writer

Yesterday marked the kickoff for Baltimore's "Save Our Water Fire Protection Campaign," an effort by the city to minimize a common summer problem: the unauthorized opening of fire hydrants.

The campaign was organized by the city's fire and public works departments. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr., and Public Works Director George G. Balog attended a kickoff demonstration yesterday outside a city building in the 1000 block of W. Saratoga St.

A fire hydrant produces a stream of water that can cause serious injuries, said Battalion Chief Hector Torres, a Fire Department spokesman. Three people were injured last year by water from hydrants, and about 10 years ago a girl was killed when she was knocked into traffic by a jet of water from a hydrant.

During yesterday's demonstration, firefighters opened a hydrant and pushed a 50-pound barrel -- about as heavy as small child -- into the stream of water. Hit by the water, the barrel tumbled across the street.

Firefighters also demonstrated a sprinkler that can be attached to hydrants so children can safely play in the water. The sprinklers reduce the force of the water coming out of the hydrants thereby maintaining the pressure of the surrounding hydrant system.

Illegally opened hydrants pose a danger because they decrease water pressure and make it difficult for firefighters to battle blazes, Chief Torres said.

The sprinklers may be obtained from the city by residents who apply for a permit allowing them to open hydrants with a special tool that won't damage them.

On a hot day last summer, so many hydrants were opened in Cherry Hill that it caused a dangerous drain in the area's water mains. As a result, firefighters discovered one hydrant in the South Baltimore neighborhood that no water flowed from, Chief Torres said.

Open hydrants also can drain water pressure from nearby buildings, especially from high-rises. Last year, Bon Secours Hospital in West Baltimore lost so much water pressure due to illegal use of hydrants that it was forced to temporarily move its dialysis equipment, vital for patients with kidney disease, to another location.

Although the relatively cool weather this year has kept the number of opened hydrants low, last year the fire department received more than 3,000 calls reporting open hydrants, Mayor Schmoke said.

"It hasn't been as big a problem [as last year] so far, but as soon as the weather gets hot, it'll pick up," Chief Torres said.

Chief Torres called the Save Our Water campaign, which includes billboards, public service announcements, and visits to schools, an effort to "educate the public about the dangers" of opening fire hydrants, especially with improper tools.

Every summer, many hydrants are damaged by people who open them with hammers and standard pipe wrenches. Firefighters often find it difficult or impossible to use the damaged hydrants.

Chief Williams said residents who want sprinklers should call the city's Sprinkler Program at 396-6415.

Illegal use of fire hydrants is "something that really hurts the community," Chief Torres said, adding: "By educating the public and the community, we hope to be able to curtail it."

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