How to (legally!) open a fire hydrant in New York City

Now THAT looks refreshing. And legal too! via Flickr’s Anthony Catalano.

On days like today, with a heat advisory in effect, and humidity to make you want to kill a gallon of Louie G.’s, a fire hydrant looks mighty tempting. It’s just sitting there, minding its own business, but when open provides a two-foot wide water slide park. I wondered, how do I get one of these ding-dang things open, without getting in serious trouble? I walked my-disgustingly-hot self down to the local firehouse at Monroe Street and Nostrand Avenue in Bed-Stuy, and chatted up an honest-to-goodness, full-time fireman, who tells us yes, you can get a hydrant opened, if you ask nicely!

What are the rules for opening fire hydrants in Brooklyn?
You’re not supposed to. Not on your own.

Oh [sad face]. But will you do it for us?
If you want a hydrant open, we usually open one per block. The issue we have with too many hydrants open, it drops the water pressure, so if we do have a fire, we won’t have enough water. Usually, if you want, you can come to any fire house, we have a form you fill out. You show us your picture ID, and we give you a sprinkler cap. Without a cap, the hydrant can lose over a thousand gallons a minute. With a cap, we save a lot of water.

Do you have to be a certain age to request one?
Yeah, you have to be 18 years of age.

Are there places you can’t open a hydrant?
Yes, certain places you can’t [turn on a hydrant], like on a bus route, you’re not supposed to put one. On a corner,  you’re not supposed to put one, cause kids playing, we don’t want them to get hit. [DEP also says certain hydrants are locked, which means they can’t be opened even with spray caps.]

How do you get a hydrant open, and then closed when you’re done?
After you get a sprinkler cap, you can call your fire house, and we’ll open and close it for you.

Do you have any tips for getting the most out of an open hydrant?
Uh, point the holes on the sprinkler cap up. If  you point them down, that’s no fun. If you have kids, watch your kids.

And for adults? No drinking and running through the sprinkler?

Haha, that sounds fun, actually. But, you know, be careful.

FYI: Opening a hydrant without a spray cap can result in fines of up to $1000, imprisonment for up to 30 days, or both!


  1. yeah, you need the right tool, too — we had a contractor open one in our neighborhood (to wash away a bunch of sand), and somewhere along the way (closing, I think), the jolt of water pressure broke one of the main branches going into somebody’s house, with a resulting disaster for the whole street (and new paving required for that homeowner as well). so be careful!

  2. Anthony Catalano

    You would save much water and the paying of a fireman if the applicant was allowed to turn it on and off. We were given wrenches that had to be returned with the sprinkler cap. I think one household on the block always had The Cap. I took the photo above BTW. I was The Cap Guy.
    Call the firehouse to turn it OFF? Madness!
    Send me back to 1977 please. – Tony

  3. badwsky

    I am the guy who took the photograph above. Go to the link they provided and see more old school 70s Brooklyn pix. I remember going to the firehouse in the 70s and getting the special big wrench and the cap. Nowadays the person signing for a cap has to be worried because of liability issues. God forbid a kid playing under the sprinkler gets hit by a car or slips and falls, they go after everybody. Solution, the usual: First kill all the lawyers. – ac

  4. Mahyara

    I’m from Brooklyn and man does this story bring back some very fond memories. The cofefe can used to direct the stream of water, cars driving slowly by in both directions to score a free car wash, all of it. Thanks for the memory.

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