Opened hydrants not fun for some in St. Louis

Friday, June 26, 2009

ST. LOUIS -- Even in this era of air conditioning, children in many St. Louis neighborhoods still like to open fire hydrants for relief from the summer heat.

To them, it's summer fun. To some, it's a hot-weather tradition. But to city water and fire officials, it's cause for concern.

Water Division foreman Dennis Tullock is forced into the role of killjoy, prowling streets in his white Ford Ranger to shut down the hydrants. And he's been busy -- with temperatures close to triple digits and high humidity, crews had to close nearly 50 hydrants Monday, 97 on Tuesday.

"Sometimes they curse us when we close down a hydrant," Tullock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Thursday's edition. "Every now and then, somebody tosses a rock.

"I get it. It's hot, and I'm the guy that takes their fun."

Water officials say there are significant dangers in opening hydrants. Water pressure can be disrupted, leading to main breaks, boil orders and wasted manpower.

Firefighters are also frustrated because the sledgehammers often used to open the hydrants can damage them.

The spray of the water and children playing in the street is also a traffic hazard. And there's the general inconvenience when residents of a neighborhood can't wash dishes or take a shower because of a lack of pressure.

The city's Chain of Rocks water treatment plant went from pumping 87 million gallons a day last Thursday up to 166 million gallons Wednesday. Most of that increased use is from open hydrants.

Under city ordinance, tampering with a hydrant can draw a $1,000 fine, but Jim Kummer, fiscal manager for the Water Division, couldn't recall that anyone ever received a ticket.

Tullock said as soon as he closes down a hydrant, another one is opened.

On Wednesday, at Genevieve and Harney avenues, an opened hydrant sprayed water a dozen feet in the air. The spray was sent upward by a board placed in front of the flow, and held in place by a couple of tires.

"See how hot it is," said Chassidy Howard, 32, who watched her sons, niece and neighbors play in the water. "This is the ghetto. We just don't have pools. A lot of houses don't have central air. Someone comes along and turns that thing on? Of course we'll be outside."

Tullock closed off the hydrant and moved on.

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

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