How To Open A Fire Hydrant: Step by Step

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OK, you’ve got a need for water and there’s this perfectly good fire hydrant nearby. Should you just crack it open and get the water flowing or is there another process that you need to follow? Well, you definitely don’t want to just open the hydrant, because that could get you into trouble, so, here’s what you want to do, instead. 

To open a fire hydrant, you need the proper tools. You also need to make sure you are allowed to open and use water from the fire hydrant, as in most areas, you will need a permit to do so.

In this article, we will talk about how to open a fire hydrant legally, what you need to do to get a permit, how to open the hydrant safely without hurting you or anyone else, what tools you will need to open the fire hydrant, how to turn the hydrant once it is open, and how to shut down fire hydrant after use. 

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: Fire Hydrant Near Me: 8 Ways To Find The Nearest Fire Hydrant

Is It Illegal To Open A Fire Hydrant?

how to open a fire hydrant

We need to be careful about this because the act of opening a fire hydrant may be either legal or illegal depending on how you choose to pursue it.

The use of fire hydrants is usually subject to local ordinance rather than federal regulation, which means the exact circumstance of legal use are locally defined. 

However, what’s almost certain to be illegal is to walk up to a fire hydrant and pop the top to take water from it and there are several reasons for this:

  • It is dangerous to other people. Fire hydrants don’t magically fill themselves with water, the water pressure has to be supplied to them. This is often a system-wide pressure which is depleted when a fire hydrant is opened. This means that when you open a fire hydrant by just “flicking it open”, you lower the pressure in the rest of the local circuit. Thus, if someone nearby has a fire and the fire service needs to use their fire hydrant – it’s entirely possible that it will not produce a full flow of water and thus, they may not be able to contain the fire effectively. 
  • It is dangerous for you. A fire hydrant is not a garden tap. The water is pressurized. Very, very pressurized. When you open a fire hydrant the resulting burst of water is likely to be expelled at over 100 miles per hour. If you, or people around you, are foolish enough to stray into the path of this high-speed jet, you are going to get injured and it’s going to mean that you could end up in the hospital for your foolishness.
  • It is dangerous to the fire hydrant. Fire hydrants need to be opened in a particular manner and if you don’t know what you’re doing, then you are likely to leave the valve on the hydrant only partially open, this is likely to cause the water pressure to severely damage the hydrant and leave it in need of replacement. 
  • It’s dangerous to your bank balance. Replacing a fire hydrant is not an easy job and it is a very expensive job to carry out – and one that you will be paying for when the bill comes due. Think about all the awesome things there are that you can buy in this world and how hard you work for your money, do you really want to give them up to buy the city a new fire hydrant, instead? On top of that, you may be fined up to $1,000 (or in some places, more) for opening a fire hydrant illegally. If you have a spare $1,000 to waste, you can just send it to me, and then you will avoid our final consequence.
  • It’s dangerous to your long-term ability to enjoy a career. Because opening a fire hydrant illegally is a crime, there are consequences for doing so and in many places, you can earn up to 30 days in jail for doing so. Once you have been convicted of a crime, you may find that you can no longer keep your current job and that getting another job in the future is much harder. And you may still have that broken fire hydrant to pay for! You really don’t want this. 

Now, the actual consequences of opening a fire hydrant may not result in all this. But these are all the things that you could potentially have to deal with.

It is actually quite common for people to illegally open and use fire hydrants, especially when it gets really hot. However, cities are cracking down on this practice. Check it out here:

How To Open A Fire Hydrant (Illegal Without a Permit)

I’m not going to teach you how to open a fire hydrant illegally.

Instead, I am going to teach you how to transition from an illegal act to a legal one, which ought to be better for all of us. 

Your first step is to call or visit your local fire department and ask them if it is possible to get access to the fire hydrant and if so, how you go about it. This usually requires getting a permit for use.

In some places, such as New York City, the fire department may actually come out to you and help you access the hydrant in a safe and effective manner.

In others, well, you will need to apply for and be granted a permit to use a fire hydrant. Sure, this takes a little time but it’s not normally an expensive process and it’s much less expensive than breaking a fire hydrant and going to jail for it. 

You will also find that, in the majority of cases, when you are given permission to use a fire hydrant that you are also provided with something known as a “spray cap”.

A spray cap is a device that you attach to the fire hydrant before you open it, which reduces the water pressure produced when you open it.

This has two effects:

  1. It reduces the chances of you being smashed off of your feet and into a hospital by the escaping water.
  2. It reduces the impact of the water usage on the overall system and thus, doesn’t leave other hydrants with insufficient pressure to allow them to operate effectively. 

Here is a simple video that shows what to do if you want to use a fire hydrant:

How To Open A Fire Hydrant (Even With A Lock)

OK to open a fire hydrant safely (including one with a lock) that you have the legal right to open, you follow this process:

  • Start by roping off the area around it. This means that when the water comes shooting out that it is unlikely to hit a passer-by, though if you have the “spray cap” on properly, this is just a precaution.
  • Inspect the fire hydrant. Make sure it feels stable and secure and that it’s not loose or have any obviously faulty parts. If there are problems, report them to your local fire department and wait until they are repaired before using the hydrant.
  • If there is a key, insert it into the key holder to open the hydrant valve. You will need to turn counterclockwise. Make sure that you a.) turn the key slowly, don’t rush this bit or you may damage the hydrant, and b.) turn it completely full on – partial opening of the valve will damage the hydrant and may harm you and the system.
  • When you are finished. You simply reverse this process to close up the fire hydrant and return everything to a normal state. 

This process is easier to understand visually, so watch this:

How Many Turns To Open A Fire Hydrant?

It is meant to take about 3 full turns to open a fire hydrant if there is no lock and again, you want to make certain that this is done slowly and fully for maximum safety. 


We hope that our guide, “How to open a fire hydrant: explained” has been of value and that you now understand that opening a fire hydrant is a serious business and not something to do when you just need a little water. If you open a fire hydrant without following the proper process, then you may find yourself in serious trouble – there are fines and even jail time for breaking the law regarding this.

Using a fire hydrant in the right circumstances can be very useful and even fun when it’s been fitted with a sprinkler cap to prevent the water table from being drained too rapidly. So, don’t be shy about going through the process, it’s not meant to inconvenience you, but rather it’s there to ensure everyone’s safety. 

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