City residents open fire hydrants to beat the heat

July 5, 2012

Quinn Ford

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(WBEZ/Quinn Ford)
Kids play in an open fire hydrant on the corner of Chicago and Homan Avenues in the city's Humboldt Park neighborhood.

Ray Barnes stood on the corner of Chicago and Homan in the city's Humboldt Park neighborhood on Thursday afternoon. 

It was hot, over 100 degrees, so he brought his great niece and nephews there to play in an open fire hydrant. Barnes said he doesn't know who opened it, but he's glad it's open.

"This here's a tradition," Barnes said. "This is the hood. I'm not going to lie to you, you're going to get this. Every couple of blocks, I bet you there's a fire hydrant. It's just what they do."

As of Thursday morning, there were 146 open fire hydrants, according to the Department of Water Management. A spokesman for the department said opening a fire hydrant is illegal. Offenders can be arrested and face fines up to $500.

But Hase Allen, standing with Barnes on the street corner watching the kids play, said police often look the other way.

"The cops, they usually come and try to turn it off, but they also just look at the fact that everybody gets hot," Allen said. "You know, everybody gets hot, especially at 103 degrees, 106 degrees."

And Barnes said opening the fire hydrants can be good for the neighborhood.

"There's, you know, been a lot of shooting and all that," Barnes said. "This here keeps people cool."

Larry Langford, a spokesman for the city's fire department, is urging city residents not to open the hydrants. Langford said opening them is dangerous; cars passing by can't see children playing in the street through the water. Langford also said opening the hydrants causes water pressure to drop in the surrounding blocks and can make it tougher for the department to battle fires.

But Barnes said it's easier to keep an eye on the kids playing in a hydrant than in a crowded pool or beach, and he said the fire hydrants are a lot closer to home too.

"Everybody wants it on," Barnes said. "Everybody's enjoying themselves. My niece and nephews, they're having a ball."

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