Have you ever wondered how firefighters can quickly locate a fire hydrant when they’re called out to a fire? Well, it turns out that this can be quite a complicated business depending on where you live but it can be done, when you know what you’re doing.
8 ways to find the closest fire hydrant by country:
- United States: Street reflectors, painted visible fence posts, or internet maps
- United Kingdom: Hydrant signage
- Australia: Painted markers, cat’s eyes or hydrant marker plates
- Germany: German marker plates.
Yes, it turns out that finding a fire hydrant is not, exactly, the easiest of jobs and if you’re not familiar with an area – you might want to read up on their hydrants before you go in search of one. We’ve laid out the basics of fire hydrants and how to find them below. This is a good starting point in a quest for a fire hydrant.
So, if you are thinking, where can I find a fire hydrant? We will take a look at fire hydrants, what they’re for, how they’re used, and how to find one when you need one.
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
Also read: How To Open A Fire Hydrant: Explained
How to Find the Nearest Fire Hydrant?
There are some different ways to find the closest fire hydrant depending on where you are. This means that you can’t just rush about looking for a fire hydrant because you might not know what the hydrant actually looks like or whether it is above or below ground.
Now, assuming you’re a firefighter with experience – we’d like to think you’d know what a hydrant in your neighborhood looks like but if you were trying to locate one without such inside knowledge, then the first thing you’d want to do is Google for the country, state, and town that you’re in to find out what kind of fire hydrants they use.
We’ve got some ideas on how to find fire hydrants in some specific countries below but there is a very wide-range of variance as you will see and it is imperative that you determine some facts about fire hydrants before searching for them or you might never find them.
One thing you should be hopeful for is a lack of cars surrounding the fire hydrant when you find it, in most parts of the world, it’s illegal for cars to park in a place obstructing a fire hydrant.
Also read: How Much Water Does A Fire Truck/Fire Engine Hold?
In the USA
The United States has several options for finding fire hydrants. These include reflectors, painted colored posts and, of course, the new-fangled way of using the Internet.
If you are seeking a fire hydrant in a part of the United States where there is no snow coverage during the winter, the most likely sign will be blue reflectors which are actually embedded into the surface of the streets.
Painted Visible Colors
If, on the other hand, there is snow coverage. You’re more likely to find tall painted signs or even flags which guide you to the hydrant, the theory being, that they will stick out of the snow and remain visible all year long.
There may also be a color coding system on the body, not be confused with cap color:
- White means that it’s a public system hydrant
- Yellow is a private system hydrant
- Red is only available for specific, special procedures
- Violet means that the supply is non-potable and may be drawing on ponds, lakes, or effluent
These colors are all recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.
It might be hard to believe but there are millions of fire hydrants located all across the United States and there is no unified database of these hydrants. That can make finding them a little tricky, particularly, if you can’t find on floor markings or raised marking leading you there.
There are several attempts to rectify this situation and make it easy to find a hydrant on the Internet. The Google Earth database, for example, claims to be the largest database of such information but there are other attempts to provide data like this in ArcGIS and HazardHub as well as dozens of smaller, local initiatives.
There is also the Verisk® system which claims to have all the data inside but this is, of course, available to purchase rather than access automatically.
It can’t hurt to Google your location and see what your options are for tracing a fire hydrant online. Be warned though, none of these databases promise 100% accuracy as their data is, of course, subject to user error.
In the UK
The United Kingdom, along with the country of Ireland, uses a system that places fire hydrants in the ground. Thus, there is no visible hydrant body to be found.
You can find a yellow sign nearby with an “H” written on it. The two numbers on the sign explain the diameter of the water main itself (this is the number at the top of the sign) and the distance from the sign that you can find the hydrant (this is the bottom number).
Confusingly, these may be in either feet and inches (if the sign is old and has not been replaced since the UK joined the EU) or in meters and millimeters (if the sign is new).
Fortunately, because of the incredible difference in orders of magnitude between these two measuring systems, it’s very difficult to become confused by the difference.
If you find yourself in Finland, they also use a similar signage system to the UK, but their signs are blue and not yellow.
Australia is a big country and despite its relatively low population there are many different hydrant initiatives across the country.
The majority of hydrants are located under the ground and they use a special spring hydrant ballcock system to activate. Because the hydrants are discretely tucked away out of sight, there should always be some sort of signposting around to let a firefighter know where they are.
Simple, but effective is a triangular sign painted on the road pointing to where the location of the hydrant is. Today, these are usually not the only marker in use, and they’re combined with other types of sign.
Road Markers (Cat’s Eyes)
A cat’s eye is a form of self-washing marker which is embedded in the road surface and which reflects a specific color in the headlights of a vehicle. The cat’s eyes used to denote fire hydrants in Australia are blue.
Hydrant Marker Plates
Australia uses hydrant marker plates, now, wherever possible. They are a complete system of identification which explains the type of water (potable or not), the path or road where the hydrant has been installed, a distance (in meters) to the hydrant and the diameter of the hydrant (in millimeters), a back line is used to denote that the hydrant is on the opposite side of the road from the plate and if the water is recycled the plate has a purple background!
In Germany, again hydrants are placed below the ground. Thus, they use marker plates to identify their location.
German Marker Plates
Fire hydrant plates are always surrounded by a red border. They denote whether the hydrant is under the ground (or in rare cases, above ground), the inner diameter of the pipe in millimeters, the distance from the plate in meters, and this is always given to the nearest ten centimeters.
What is a Fire Hydrant?
A fire hydrant is simply a place that a firefighter can connect to and get access to the local water supply. They are a part of the practice known as “active fire protection” which is a set of systems used to fight fires that require some form of effort for them to function when confronting a fire.
Also read: Water Sources: Where Firefighters Get Their Water
The simplest example of active fire protection is a fire extinguisher which requires that you pick it up and use it on fire. Another example could be a sprinkler which requires either activation by a button or an electronic code to activate.
Fire hydrants are only of use in fighting fires when they are actively used by firefighters.
There have been fire hydrants available in parts of Europe and Asia going back to the 18th century though the “above ground pillar” is not as old as that and was invented during the 19th century.
Without fire hydrants, firefighters would be left relying on “bucket brigades” (that is human chains formed between the fire and a water source down which buckets are passed back and forth) either that or they’d have to dig a well on the property and tap that.
As you can imagine, while these practices used to be common, they weren’t very convenient. The earliest fire hydrants were simply plugs made in underground pipes which could be easily removed, the first modern “pillar style” hydrant was invented by Fredrick Graff in 1803.
There have been quite a few improvements to the design of hydrants since then and they’ve dealt with preventing tampering, stopping water from freezing, making connections easier and more reliable, etc.
Also read: How Close Can You Park To A Fire Hydrant?
How Do Fire Hydrants Work?
The firefighter will attach a supply hose to the hydrant. Once this is attached, they open a valve on the hydrant to provide a flow of water. This is much, much powerful than the flow of water in a typical garden hose and can easily reach 50 lbs. square inch.
The precise pressure depends on the hydrant, the location of the main, the hose in use, etc. it is not completely fixed.
When the hose is connected to the hydrant it might use a quick connector, a Storz connector (invented by a chap called Storz and which is a standard in German firefighting) or a good old fashioned thread connector. See the picture below.
One reason that you should be trained to use a fire hydrant before you open one is that if you open it or close it faster than it should be, you can create what is known as a “water hammer” (that is a rapid surge of water within the system) which can break the pipes, the local equipment and more.
It’s also worth noting that once water is inside a hose, it is “charged” and it’s harder to direct a charged hose than an uncharged one. So, it’s important to position the hose correctly prior to connecting it to the hydrant.
There are very few hydrants which are designed to offer any user control to the level of water flow – they are simply “on” or “off”. This means that they should always be operated fully open. Failing to do so risks water leakage into the soil surrounding the fire hydrant. This can cause unpleasant scouring of the area.
If the output from a hydrant needs to be controlled. It is possible to install a valve between the hydrant and the hose. In fact, it’s considered to be a good idea to install valves because the protective caps on a hydrant are prone to failure and they can cause serious injury to the firefighter when they fail.
A firefighter working with a hydrant should always use the right personal protective equipment (PPE) which should include gloves and a helmet with some form of face shielding.
Be careful with old, corroded hydrants it’s possible for them to break while in use and injure firefighters.
Finally, many modern fire hydrants are fitted with sockets that need special tools to open them with, they can’t easily be opened by any passerby.
What Do Fire Hydrants Look Like?
Sadly, there is no uniform standard for fire hydrants that applies globally, and even within countries they can look pretty different.
There is a current, sort of standard, in the United States which is recommended by both the NFPA and AWWA, which says that ideally, a hydrant should be a chrome yellow color so that they can be easily seen and then identified.
In addition to this, they should have a nozzle and cap color which identifies their potential flow. Flow is measured in gallons per minute (gpm).
Here is a chart showing the different US hydrant flow rates and colors:
|Hydrant Class||Cap Color||Flow Rate|
|Class AA||Light Blue||1500+ GPM|
|Class A||Green||1000 – 1499 GPM|
|Class B||Orange||500 – 999 GPM|
|Class C||Red||Less than 499 GPM|
If you see a fire hydrant with a black cap and nozzle – that means, it’s no longer operational and isn’t capable of providing a safe water supply.
There are other much more complex color coding schemes to be found in the rest of the world. In Ottawa in Canada, for example, they use specific colors to identify specific defects with a hydrant as well as flow measures.
Some places make a distinction between potable and non-potable water supplies. To make matters more complicated, some places just like their hydrants to look pretty and the complex design of a hydrant can actually interfere with its practicality.
In some nations (such as much of the EU) hydrants are all below ground and need to be connected to with a riser.
In Japan, they use an underground system but with very ornately designed covers.
In East Asia and Eastern Europe, there are often two kinds of hydrant that you can find. One will be in the ground (rather like in Western Europe) but the other will be inside the structure and installed in the wall. They may also be housed with other fire supplies such as alarms, extinguishers and other emergency equipment.
We hope that you’ve found our guide to 8 ways to find the nearest fire hydrant useful. Please remember that only a trained firefighter with the appropriate equipment should use a fire hydrant. There is a significant risk of personal injury or injury to the device if you try to attempt it without the right equipment.
You should also be aware that in some locations, it may also be a civil or criminal offence to use a fire hydrant without permission even if you do manage to do so without hurting yourself or the equipment.
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