Fire Hydrants – The Watering Holes of The Concrete Jungle

Fire Hydrant. Image credit: D. Rosenbach at en.wikipedia

Opening a hydrant without a permit is a violation that is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or 30 days in jail. City fire hydrants may be opened by authorized employees of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fire Department at any time. However, the DEP and FDNY have procedures and guidelines for how residential New Yorkers and commercial businesses can gain access to fire hydrant use for recreational and non-recreational purposes. Almost every single block in New York City has at least one fire hydrant. Most people assume that they are there for exclusive use by the FDNY in case of a fire, however, you too can use a fire hydrant if you follow the necessary steps.

During the hot summer months in the concrete jungle of New York City, hydrants may be used for recreational purposes. Walk down a City block on a hot summer day and you will often times see kids using hydrants as a sprinklers. It is legal to use a hydrant as a sprinkler without the need for a Use Permit from the DEP. However, using a hydrant for recreational purposes still requires formal permission from the FDNY. To obtain permission, an individual over the age of 18 with a valid ID must fill out a form at their local firehouse to have a hydrant opened and fitted with a city-approved spray cap for recreational use. The firehouse will then schedule specific times where they will turn the hydrant on and off.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, businesses seeking to acquire permission to open and use a fire hydrant for non-recreational commercial purposes must secure a Use Permit from the DEP. Permit applicants are required to submit a non-premises permit application in person to a DEP borough office describing the proposed use of the hydrant in detail. In order to use a hydrant, a business must first obtain a reduced pressure zone backflow preventer that must be purchased and installed by a licensed master plumber. Once approved Use Permits cost $55 every 30 days plus $13.50 per day of actual use and must be displayed at the site where the water is being used. Non-premises hydrant Use Permit applications can be found here.

Sprinkler with spray cap. Image credit: FDNY.

Specific procedures are required when opening a hydrant. Only approved hydrant wrenches may be used and water should only be taken from the smaller hydrant nozzle. The caps and chains that cover the hydrant should not be broken for any reason and must be securely replaced on the hydrant after use. Connections to hydrants should be made by valve and couplings that can readily be detached in case of an emergency. Hydrant use permits are valid between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on the days specified in the permit. Opening a hydrant without a permit is a violation that is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or 30 days in jail.

Individuals may also request for hydrants to be installed, removed, relocated, unlocked, or fitted for spray caps by submitting a letter to the Department of Environmental Protection explaining where the hydrant is currently located, where you want it moved or installed, and the reason for the request. If a hydrant has a history of being illegally opened, a request for a lock to be placed on the hydrant can be made to the DEP. Once a hydrant has been locked, only someone from the DEP or FDNY can open it. To have a hydrant unlocked you must get a permit from a DEP borough office and then provide 311 with the permit number, your phone number, and the hydrant location so that the DEP can open the hydrant. If a hydrant is damaged, broken, cracked, leaning or knocked over, missing, or being misused you should report the problem to 311 here.

By: Thomas Columbia (Thomas is a CityLaw Intern and a New York Law School Student, Class of 2019.)

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