This is how many Philly fire hydrants are illegally opened every day

Justyn Myers and Jake Long were the toast of the Riverwards this summer. They secured a dumpster, power-cleaned it, added plywood to the bottom and tarps to the sides and opened a fire hydrant on the block to fill it up and complete their dumpster pool.  

But a warning. You might not want to try the same at your own block party, and it has nothing to do with fretting about the cleanliness of a dumpster. It’s all about the water.

Any operation of a fire hydrant without a permit is illegal. And no, the city is not going to grant you a permit to fill your dumpster pool. In Philadelphia, fire hydrants can pretty much only be used in case of fires. Yet in Philadelphia, fire hydrant use is as much a summer tradition as water ice.

In July, according to the Water Department, an average of 13 fire hydrants were opened per day. One day, 33 were opened. Only once last month did a day pass with no opened fire hydrant reports.

Those numbers consist of the fire hydrant openings the city knows about. There were probably more, maybe many more. The only surefire way to tell whether a hydrant has been opened is if someone from the Water Department notices one or someone reports one to the department.

“We know that unfortunately many illegally opened hydrants are not reported,” said John DiGiulio, community relations manager for the Water Department.

Once opened, water quickly blasts out of hydrants. Depending on the level of pressure, 2,000 gallons of water can be released per minute. If a hydrant is open all day, 2 million gallons of water could stream out.

The other risk, according to the Water Department, is a water main break. When a hydrant is opened, too much pressure can be exerted on the main, leading to the break.

“If we know a hydrant was opened on a block,” DiGiulio said, “and there was a water main break, we can almost always attribute that break to the hydrant and the operation of it.”

Hydrants are generally supposed to be used for fires and little else. Sometimes permits are granted to contractors, who use them for dust control for demolitions.   

Do Myers and Long have anything to worry about for opening the hydrant for the dumpster pool? Fines are possible for people who open hydrants. Bills can be issued for any damages. When Myers called after the party, he said the Department didn’t tell him anything about a fine.   

But they won’t be able to use the fire hydrant anytime soon. The Water Department has plans to lock the hydrant on Cedar Street so it can’t be used for recreation in the future.

RIP dumpster pool.

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