D.C. Fire: 'Please leave fire hydrants alone'

    WASHINGTON (WJLA) - As temperatures reach well into the 90s this week, the D.C. Fire Department is urging residents not to be tempted to open a fire hydrant as a way to cool off.

    In a statement this week, the department warned residents that opening a fire hydrant without the proper tools can damage the hydrant - and they point out that the city has recently invested quite a bit of money to upgrade all city hydrants.

    Opening a hydrant can damage the city water system, and also poses a risk of street flooding, which can cause traffic problems. It can also lower the water pressure for all homes on the block, officials said, and can limit the amount of water available to fight a nearby fire.

    "Fire hydrants are for fighting fires," said D.C. Water General Manager George S. Hawkins. "We have invested considerably in our fire hydrant replacement and upgrade program, but if a hydrant is damaged from someone opening it without the proper tools, it can be rendered useless."

    Fire and EMS Chief Ken Ellerbe said, it is also easy to underestimate the force of pressure that can be emitted from a stream of hydrant water, which poses a risk for injury.

    "The force of pressurized water from a hydrant can knock a person down, or damage a vehicle," Ellerbe said. "It's a safety hazard that can be avoided."

    Fire officials also warn that tampering with a hydrant is illegal and can earn someone a $100 fine.

    So, what can district residents do to stay cool when temperatures get uncomfortably high, if they live in a building with no air conditioning?

    According to the city, when the temperature or heat index reaches 95, those without access to air conditioning may take refuge at a district swimming pool, cooling center, recreation facility, senior center or other air-conditioned building. More information and locations can be found online or by calling 311.

    Also, D.C. Water offers misting tents and cooling stations for large community events sponsored by district agencies and community groups. These are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis by registering online at or by calling the Office of External Affairs at 202-787-2200.

    In the event of a life-threatening heat emergency, call 911 for medical assistance.

    Unauthorized use of fire hydrants can be reported by calling the D.C. Water Command Center at 202-612-3400.

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