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City Hopes to Halt Hydrant Openings Amid Heat

City Hopes to Halt Hydrant Openings Amid Heat

The Columbus Dispatch

June 02, 2011

Columbus, Ohio — City residents caused headaches for firefighters when some opened fire hydrants to cool off amid midsummerlike temperatures on Tuesday.

Firefighters shut off about 50 fire hydrants across the city, Battalion Chief Michael Fowler said.

Open hydrants are a problem every summer, he said, but the situation came early this year as the high temperature on Tuesday hit 93 — just 2 degrees shy of the record set in 1895.

An open hydrant can decrease water pressure needed to fight a fire, Fowler said.

“It would cause problems for us if we have a fire in the area and we can’t get enough water,” he pointed out.

Opening hydrants is illegal. Those wielding the pipe wrench face a $300 fine per hydrant and are on the hook for the cost to repair damage, according to city code.

The bolt that opens the water valve is often bent, broken or damaged when a pipe wrench is used, Fowler said. Hydrants are designed to be opened with a special square wrench.

If a hydrant is opened all the way, the water can come out with enough force to push a child across the street, said Laura Young Mohr, a spokeswoman for the Columbus Department of Public Utilities.

The force of the water also can propel rocks or sticks that can injure bystanders, Fowler said.

Children playing in the water in the street also risk being struck by cars, he said.

Runs to close the hydrants can tie up equipment and personnel, and firefighters aren’t always well-received, he said.

“They’re yelling at you, splashing you, spraying you,” he said. “They don’t want you turning it off.”

In past years, the city has opened hydrants when temperatures become unbearable, but officials currently have no plans to do so, said Dan Williamson, a spokesman for Mayor Michael B. Coleman.

City recreation centers are air-conditioned, and city pools open June 12.

Chris Bradley, chief meteorologist at WBNS-TV (Channel 10), is forecasting high temperatures of 79 today, 85 on Friday and 89 on Saturday.

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