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  1. #1
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    Default On a Hot and Restless Day, a Hydrant and a Wrench Turn a Block Into a Water Park

    The New York Times

    September 5, 2005

    On a Hot and Restless Day, a Hydrant and a Wrench Turn a Block Into a Water Park

    By COREY KILGANNON

    It was noon one recent weekday in the South Bronx and playing conditions were perfect: 90 degrees, no breeze and a sidewalk like a stovetop. The players - a roster of men who were hot, bored and mischievous - lined up behind a fire hydrant on St. Ann's Avenue near 138th Street and shouted in Spanish for a big wrench.

    They borrowed one from a plumber working nearby and opened the hydrant's side cap. Then they cranked open the top valve and a jet of white water shot out, growing in force, volume and length until it gushed like a geyser across the street. The men stood at the hydrant - la pompa, they called it - and beheld its sheer power.

    "You've heard of a water gun?" said Jay Rivera, 29. "We call this our water cannon."

    Among the many symbols of the rougher, grittier 1970's and 1980's New York City is that of the illegally opened hydrant drenching streets, blasting pedestrians and lowering water pressure to dangerous levels on scorching days. They were once a staple, with hundreds flooding the gutters, but they have faded: air-conditioning has taken its toll, as has increased enforcement, officials say. The city has equipped many hydrants with sprinkler caps and turn-on valves that require a special wrench.

    To be sure, no one who ever had a car drowned or damaged misses those great gushers of years gone by - and the lawlessness they implied. (Anyone caught opening a hydrant can face a fine, and can be arrested and charged with criminal mischief in the case of damage.) But like any vestige of old New York, a few examples remain, as well as a few practitioners. Here, as the unofficial last weekend of New York's summer comes to a close, is their story.

    With the authorities seemingly occupied with more serious misdeeds, a group of neighborhood men practice this urban sport on St. Ann's Avenue. Success is not scored by runs or hits but rather by car parts one has sniped off; payback to prankster neighbors; or aqua-flirting with the girls.

    "Sometimes it's just about wetting people and having fun," said Michael Rojas, 27. "But we can step it up and blast the sign off a truck or put dents in cars. We don't really squirt nobody if they don't want it, and we don't shoot straight at windshields or windows."

    Mr. Rivera squatted at the hydrant and cupped his hands around the stream. He began shooting cars heading up the avenue and then used his baseball cap as a nozzle. Some cars received only a serious power-washing. For others, the force bent windshield wipers, rattled side-view mirrors and thumped door panels. At one point, the stream banged a big dent in the side of a minivan and knocked off part of a plastic part of a bumper, which Mr. Rivera grabbed and held up like a trophy. The driver didn't stop to complain.

    Then the secret weapon arrived. Miguel Calderone, 29, walked up with a metal tool resembling a tire iron: a thick metal cylinder with two metal handles extending from it.

    He stood behind the hydrant and gathered himself like an Olympic high-diver. He squatted like a baseball catcher and notched the base of his cylinder to the top lip of the hydrant opening. The cylinder peeled off a smaller stream of the full blast, which Mr. Calderone directed with the precision of a sniper.

    The tight stream shot through the air in an arc that he controlled well enough to power-wash store signs and aim into the open windows of third-story apartments across the street (a practice he says he does very infrequently).

    "We used to do this with a regular tin can, like a Goya can, with the top and bottom cut out, but they're sloppy and hard to hold," he said. "Then I got some old-timer to make this for me in a machine shop. We getting serious about this business now."

    As proof, he shifted his arc over to El Vaquero restaurant across the street and doused a man who was exiting. The man shouted something in Spanish and laughed and ran up the block.

    Two women across the street began taunting Mr. Calderone. He sprayed them and they screamed and sought retreat in a bodega.

    The jet stream of cold water turned the block into an urban water park, creating a flume on the street and sidewalk, a rushing river in both gutters and a palpable cool breeze flowing down the street. The water had flowed about 100 miles from the city's Catskill-Delaware watershed system and was gushing about 750 gallons per minute and at a force of about 45 pounds per square inch.

    An audience materialized on stoops and boys ripped off their shirts and joined in. Mr. Rivera approached the shooting stream of water and began walking into it like he was barreling into an ocean wave.

    "This is real Puerto Rican," he yelled as he ducked his head into it and yelled the Spanish words for hard head. "Cabeza dura, baby. Real Puerto Rican. We don't play." He stood up and was knocked down and over about five feet.

    The term for this among city officials is hydrant abuse, and according to Charles G. Sturcken, a spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection, it can be dangerous and cause serious problems.

    In the 1970's and 1980's, decreased water pressure from open hydrants hindered firefighters' efforts to put out fires and affected hospital water systems, he said. In at least one case, a child was pushed into traffic by the force of hydrant water.

    According to Mr. Sturcken, a gushing hydrant puts out roughly a million gallons of water a day, which can add up to a significant portion of the average total of 1.2 billion gallons used in the city each day. The water costs about $2 for a thousand gallons, and is treated in wastewater treatment plants, which is also expensive.

    The neighborhoods with the most frequently opened hydrants have traditionally been, and still are, Washington Heights, the South Bronx and South Jamaica, he said. A third of the city's roughly 110,000 hydrants now have caps that require a special wrench with a magnet to engage the cap mechanism. But some hydrant bathers say they handle that problem by taking strong magnets from discarded stereo speakers and fashioning their own hydrant wrenches.

    There was a break in the action on St. Ann's Avenue when a fire truck rolled up from Ladder Co. 29 and two firefighters with a large flat wrench shut the hydrant, as the players cursed at them.

    The firefighters left and the wrench was borrowed again and soon the hydrant was pumping and the game was back on.

    "It's 90 degrees, and they gonna stop us from getting wet," Mr. Rivera said. "If they give us a ticket, we'll start a riot."


  2. #2
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    This is real nice! A throwback to an earlier time. Now all you need is the work from that era and you'll be all set. Nice attitude BTW talking about starting a riot. What has the world come to??
    "I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we know the work which a fireman has to do believe that his is a noble calling."

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    How dumb is the reporter and the editor who allowed this to be printed? A few years back we went over to the city next door for a drill, since we were increasingly going over there for mutual aid. Specifically, we went over to learn how to use their various and sundry anti-vandal hydrants. We were also issued a bag of tools, wrenches and accesories to be able to turn these different types of hydrants on. We went around to the various kinds, and members of their training division as well as a local engine company showed us what was what. One type was the kind described in the article, the kind you need the m******c wrench for. The fellow who showed us how it works was very secretive about its operation, as they didn't want the procedure to become public knowledge for this very reason. Nice job, NY Times, now everybody who didn't know how to defeat this particular anti-vandal hydrant should be able to figure it out. All the news that's fit to line a birdcage, I say. Doofuses............
    Leroy140 (yes, THAT Leroy)
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    Quote Originally Posted by lieutleroy140
    How dumb is the reporter and the editor who allowed this to be printed? A few years back we went over to the city next door for a drill, since we were increasingly going over there for mutual aid. Specifically, we went over to learn how to use their various and sundry anti-vandal hydrants. We were also issued a bag of tools, wrenches and accesories to be able to turn these different types of hydrants on. We went around to the various kinds, and members of their training division as well as a local engine company showed us what was what. One type was the kind described in the article, the kind you need the m******c wrench for. The fellow who showed us how it works was very secretive about its operation, as they didn't want the procedure to become public knowledge for this very reason. Nice job, NY Times, now everybody who didn't know how to defeat this particular anti-vandal hydrant should be able to figure it out. All the news that's fit to line a birdcage, I say. Doofuses............

    I actually believe its "dufii".... but you've got a point. The Times have always been known for, among other things, being complete morons just to print something.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lieutleroy140
    How dumb is the reporter and the editor who allowed this to be printed? A few years back we went over to the city next door for a drill, since we were increasingly going over there for mutual aid. Specifically, we went over to learn how to use their various and sundry anti-vandal hydrants. We were also issued a bag of tools, wrenches and accesories to be able to turn these different types of hydrants on. We went around to the various kinds, and members of their training division as well as a local engine company showed us what was what. One type was the kind described in the article, the kind you need the m******c wrench for. The fellow who showed us how it works was very secretive about its operation, as they didn't want the procedure to become public knowledge for this very reason. Nice job, NY Times, now everybody who didn't know how to defeat this particular anti-vandal hydrant should be able to figure it out. All the news that's fit to line a birdcage, I say. Doofuses............
    A lot off topic, but why would the forum censor the word magnetic? lol

    *Edit* ~ weird, it didn't censor my use of magnetic.
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    This is a common situation in our city. Once the temps go up, the hydrants go on. Often the revelers will rig the hydrants will planks or tires to get a big spray. Then the citizens who aren't amused by the drop in water pressure or rust and sediment knocked off the water mains and into their faucets call our central office, which then dispatches us to shut down the hydrants.

    Many bosses will just collect a list of the open hydrants, then go around in the early evening to see which ones still need shutting off. It makes no sense to get right on it since attempting to shut off a hydrant, not matter how diplomatically handled, is a potentially dangerous situation. Folks don't take kindly to interlopers trying to disrupt their fun. Often times we'll shut off a hydrant, then before we even leave the block I'll look back and see it open again. Hey ... we did what we could do. No use courting violence.

    I feel bad for the folks who don't want this going on on their street. Then there's the low water pressure, the stripped nuts, the tires and planks left in and on the hydrant when you're trying to hook up to it at a fire. We have a educational pamphlet about hydrants that we're supposed to hand out, but I doubt they're read much even when they are handed out. We have some hydrants that require a tamper-proof wrench, but nothing has worked to a large degree yet. Maybe the city should issue free garden hoses and sprinklers to all residents who request it, not that a sprinkler packs the thrill of an open hydrant. It's vexing. Have any other cities stumbled on the solution?

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    If they can't find real news,they make stuff up.That's how they justify their salaries and offices.
    M******c wrenches indeed.That sounds so sci-fi.Do they make them out at Area 51?
    I have long believed that the people who go to journalism school are the same kids that the teacher picks to take names while she's out of the room sneaking a cigarette under the guise of conferring with another teacher.

    Quote Originally Posted by TrentonFF
    I actually believe its "dufii".... but you've got a point. The Times have always been known for, among other things, being complete morons just to print something.

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    This has been a problem in certain parts of London for over a decade now. Sure, people have been opening the odd hydrant for many years, but it became a sustained problem in the East end in the mid 90's. A set of hydrant tools were stolen from one of our pumps and it spread like widlfire, initially the LFB attended to turn them off, then it was becoming to much of a drain on our pumps going out to those a dozen times on top of the high number of calls attended anyway in the summer.

    They started sending Guys in vans from Thames Water Authority (The City Water provider) but one of those got badly beaten by the locals so they stopped. Like everything else, despite the fact NYC and other big cities had been plauged like this for years it took ages for the LFB to realise it was a problem....and also dangerous for the Crews as our hydrants are below ground, so to turn it off without the actual hydrant outlet fitted you have to stand over a hole in the sidewalk gushing this water.... they loved to booby trap the hydrants by placing rocks and blades in the pit!!! Not forgetting the danger form staem burns from wet fire kit...running from a hydrant call to a structure fire would leave us vulnerable in this way.

    Anyway, now they have devised a lockable cap...this seems to be working in some areas, but others have already learned how to breech them...it won't be long before we have to reinvent the wheel again.

    In reference to the original post, the Reporter has informed every reprobate in the city of this great idea now.... same happened to us, it was concentrated in one neighbourhood, one of the Chiefs did a piece in the local (Thankfully not citywide) newspaper and all of a sudden the problem was across the Borough.
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    The recent heatwave has brought about a dramatic increase in this least favorite duty. I heard at least one company call for a scout car because it was being attacked by citizens. Not to mention the rounding of the stems and the accessories stuck in the barrels. One crew I know of had a hydrant with the stem completely sheared off. Hope that street doesn't catch a fire soon.

    There was a directive to drive around our districts looking for open hydrants. Hey, let's search out opportunities for confrontation. No thanks.

    Maybe the city should open up a certain number of hydrants on hot days and advertise the heck out of those locations. Maybe we need to communicate better with neighborhood groups and churches and educate them on the dangers of opening hydrants. Maybe we need more tamper-resistant mechanisms. Maybe there is no solution. The fact is most of these hydrant-abuse neighborhoods are poor and the people don't have A.C. nor pools, and rec centers are closing in the city. As they always say to us, "Hey, man, it's HOT out." Sigh.

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    In Rochester Ny they did just what you suggested, opened selected hydrants and advertised them in the local media.
    http://www.rnews.com/Story_2004.cfm?...18&category=10
    They also have tamper resistant stems on the hydrants, I couldn't tell you makes them but the wrenches used to open them use a magnet.

    Larry
    Last edited by REVANANT; 08-04-2006 at 11:21 AM.

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    We dont shut any hydrants where there is any kind of crowd, unless PD is with us. What we try to do is tell the people to use the hydrants with the sprinkler caps already on them, but usually they just steal them anyway.
    Proud East Coast Traditionalist.

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    The news story made me chuckle for the way it was written - it struck my funny bone when I needed a good laugh. HOWEVER, that being said, the full implications of having open fire hydrants when they should not be is well understood, by those of us "Who Know". Unfortunately the general public does not, and I suspect often does not care to know either.

    It always makes me wonder what a group would say, if it was their building that was burning down because their buddies 4 blocks over had hydrants wide open, while the FD at the fire location had none....
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    Any device invented to prevent this will be overcome by the overheated. If they get too complicated someday, it'll take too long to hook up at a fire. We have a ton of the magnet types here and they get opened somehow. In the winter, it's warming barrell runs; a 55 gallon drum keeping the homeless warm and a device to cook with. I just tell them to get more people to surround the drum so the flames stay out of sight and not to stoke it so much.

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    We switched to magnetic valves in selected neighborhoods. The same dip****s that open up hydrants /threaten to riot are the same ones who steal your hubcaps, shoot dice outdoors and bitch the loudest when there is a delay putting water on a fire because the stem is all screwed up.
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    When I grew up in Brooklyn in the 1970's my parents were the keepers of the blocks hydrant sprinkler cap (City issued). It was a steamer cap with holes drilled in it to create a low pressure spray. We spent many summers playing in the street in the sprinklers.

    The best part was holding our hands over the cap to stop the flow of water until a car was passing by and then we would let them have it, usually right inn the drivers window.

    Then one day E-269 (Now Squad 1) showed up mid party, removed the sprinkler cap, replaced the steamer cap and put a locking device on the hydrant, and that was te end of our sprinkler days.

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    We've stopped shutting hydrants down here, as well. Threats of violence and physical danger to companies brought this about. The police here now escort the water department, who actually are the ones to shut it down.
    We've just started getting magnetic anti-tamper hydrants, the majority of ours are McGard.

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    Basically the same situation here. Hydrants flowing, some actually have people playing in them. Seems more and more often one or two kids open them up, play a bit then leave without shutting it down. We use to shut them down but sent that job to the water department. More and more of our hydrants are pin operated, meaning, you need to depress the pin in stead of turing the actual stem. This worked great for a year or so then the kids found that if they chain a small car jack upside down on the hydrant and put a rock or something on the pin they can operate the jack which depresses the pin, and you get water. We now also give out sprinkler caps to "block captains" but they are only suppose to be used on regular twisting stem hydrants. As with every other program designed to decrease hydrant useage, this one failed as well. I doubt you will ever see the "ultimate" solution to this problem.
    Just another one of the 99%ers looking up.

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    Thumbs down I don't think so...

    Quote Originally Posted by lieutleroy140
    One type was the kind described in the article, the kind you need the m******c wrench for. The fellow who showed us how it works was very secretive about its operation, as they didn't want the procedure to become public knowledge for this very reason. Nice job, NY Times, now everybody who didn't know how to defeat this particular anti-vandal hydrant should be able to figure it out.
    First, why on earth did you censor MAGNETIC? Secondly, the people who open up hydrants illegally aren't the same ones who read newspapers. So, I doubt that the NY Times really added to the problem. Besides, if a man designed it... Another man will figured out how to get around it. That's how life works.

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    Angry Put away your brush, please...

    Quote Originally Posted by doughesson
    I have long believed that the people who go to journalism school are the same kids that the teacher picks to take names while she's out of the room sneaking a cigarette under the guise of conferring with another teacher.
    How do you figure?

    Do you read a paper? Do you watch the TV news past the first three or four minutes? The bulk of news stories -- print and broadcast -- aren't really exciting. Their sole purpose is to inform. School boards. City councils. Changes in governing. And contrary to popular belief, many of the stories are positive, too.

    Sure, TV likes to lead with bleeding or scandel... But that's not the average joe reporter at work there -- it's their boss. Everyone says that newspapers write stories to sell papers... But the only stories that sell are the ones on page one above the fold. That's less than 1% of what's in an average newspaper. What makes up the other 99%? Ordinary stories from ordinary folks who like doing an important job -- being a journalist.

    Just because some firefighters sit in a recliner all day and watch tv doesn't mean we all do. So why do folks paint other professions with the same oversized brush?

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    Quote Originally Posted by lieutleroy140
    How dumb is the reporter and the editor who allowed this to be printed? A few years back we went over to the city next door for a drill, since we were increasingly going over there for mutual aid. Specifically, we went over to learn how to use their various and sundry anti-vandal hydrants. We were also issued a bag of tools, wrenches and accesories to be able to turn these different types of hydrants on. We went around to the various kinds, and members of their training division as well as a local engine company showed us what was what. One type was the kind described in the article, the kind you need the m******c wrench for. The fellow who showed us how it works was very secretive about its operation, as they didn't want the procedure to become public knowledge for this very reason. Nice job, NY Times, now everybody who didn't know how to defeat this particular anti-vandal hydrant should be able to figure it out. All the news that's fit to line a birdcage, I say. Doofuses............
    My man....the indigenous folk have always know how to defeat these caps. But they know w/o the sprinkler cap....we will just shut it down anyway. That still doesn't stop them. They open the hydrants, put two tires over it, and slip a shovel or board into the tires, IFO the outlet....and viola...you get one hell of a water park....depending on PSI....will shoot rather high and far.
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