Turning off Fire Hydrants in the Name of Terrorism

This really pegs the stupid meter:

He explains all the district’s hydrants, including those in Alexander Ranch, have had their water turned off since just after 9/11—something a trade association spokesman tells us is common practice for rural systems.

“These hydrants need to be cut off in a way to prevent vandalism or any kind of terrorist activity, including something in the water lines,” Hodges said.

But Hodges says fire departments know, or should have known, the water valves can be turned back on with a tool.

One, fires are much more common than terrorism—keeping fire hydrants on makes much more sense than turning them off. Two, what sort of terrorism is possible using working fire hydrants? Three, if the water valves can be “turned back on with a tool,” how does turning them off prevent fire-hydrant-related terrorism?

More and more, it seems as if public officials in this country have simply gone insane.

Posted on September 11, 2008 at 1:59 PM80 Comments


Phillip September 11, 2008 2:16 PM

I don’t know enough about the fire hydrant system, but is it on the same system as the drinking water? If so, one could try to stuff something solid into it that would dissolve and spread into the normal water system. Overcoming the back pressure would be a huge obstacle. It’s one of those “in theory”…but good luck trying to do it thing.

ugh September 11, 2008 2:25 PM

Good grief. I can think of dozens of easier and more effective ways to cause terror than messing with fire hydrants.

The problem with our civilization is that we have largely eliminated the darwinism that used to effectively cull the population of stupid people, and they have been outbreeding the rest of us for a few hundred years now.

Fraud Guy September 11, 2008 2:25 PM

According to the story, it is not a public official, but a private company that provides the water service.

Beta September 11, 2008 2:38 PM


Never mind the practical difficulties, you’ve created a masterpiece of sec-theatre logic:

1) It is possible to force a toxin back through a water system to a reservoir, and
2) hydrants and faucets draw from the same reservoir, so
3) if we shut off hydrants, the faucets will be safe.


Rich September 11, 2008 2:43 PM

Yes, incredibly stupid, but…

According to the article the hydrants are painted black so they aren’t really fire hydrants. A black hydrant, according to the article, is not required to have sufficient pressure for fighting a fire. (A different form of stupidity.)

The official speaking appears to be an official for a private company whose hydrant it is. It seems that the 9/11 comment may be a way to cover a business decision. (Yet, another form of stupidity.)

Anonymous September 11, 2008 2:44 PM

The most important thing that was missed in the article was lower down — that in texas, water companies are NOT required to maintain enough water pressure to fight fires. Really?

Marc September 11, 2008 2:44 PM

Contaminating water supply has many major obstacles that are rarely mentioned in any of article like this. The taste, smell and color of water can not be affected. If it is a biological organism it has to survive the treatment process. Even if it is introduced after treatment, the organism has to be able to withstand the lingering chloramine in the water. All of which, makes a successful terrorist attack all but impossible and turning off fire hydrants brain dead stupid.

Joe Sixpack September 11, 2008 2:52 PM

“I can think of dozens of easier and more effective ways to cause terror than messing with fire hydrants.”

OMFG, a terrorist! Call the police! Call Homeland Security!

Tom September 11, 2008 2:55 PM

I’m not jumping on the completely idiotic idea bandwagon just yet. Ignoring the terrorism comment – if someone busted a fire hydrant in a rural area (vandalism) and the water company doesn’t monitor pressure 24/7 it could be hours before the water is shut off.

That said, insufficient water pressure, lack of communication, the terrorism comment, and tools to turn the water back on if you wanted to cause mischief do make my arguments rather weak.

Roy September 11, 2008 2:56 PM

This may be a dodge to cover up something completely different, such as known leaks in lines. With the pressure on full all the time, the leaks will show quickly by sinkholes, ruptures, and so on. By having the water off almost all the time, any evidence of leaks is highly unlikely.

Team America September 11, 2008 3:00 PM

Primary source tl;dr so the following is speculation.

The company turned off the fire hydrant, because they already got paid and don’t want to deliver the service.

They are smart. The officials that buy this sort of explanation are smart too, since it is not their money that is wasted and they get paid, too.

So, it’s the people who pay taxes, who are stupid.

Clintp September 11, 2008 3:05 PM

Actually, Phillip may be on to something. In many (if not all) communities drinking water and hydrant water ultimately come from the same source.

Now, how far down the line that source is varies greatly. Sometimes they join back up in the same block, neighborhood, or perhaps even back to the water treatment plant. You could force something into the drinking water supply through a hydrant, but I don’t think you’d get much coverage. Spitting into the wind is tricky.

Or just do it with just a garden hose. (Which is why most modern exterior faucets have an anti-siphon device on them, just to keep this from happening accidentally.)

The only other thing would be if there were a fire, and someone had opened many other hydrants in the area. The loss of pressure would make fighting the fire difficult. I wouldn’t get too worked up over this though.

Karl Lembke September 11, 2008 3:22 PM

As has been mentioned, the article states that the private company that supplied water to the hydrants in question were not legally required to provide enough pressure to fight fires. Apparently this is common in rural areas.

I suppose that makes some sense. Water mains in rural areas could be long enough that the dynamic pressure drop could make it impossible to pump enough water for fire suppression. Well, you could pump enough water, but you’d need enough pressure to blow out plumbing in any houses that were close to the pump station.

As for the mechanics of introducing anything into the water lines through the hydrants–

It’s theoretically possible. Fire hydrants are usually hooked up to the drinking water system. It’s too expensive to run a separate set of water mains, and the presence of the hydrants makes it a lot easier to flush crud out of the mains when needed. Anything that lets water out of the drinking water system can also let stuff in.

If the hydrants are anything like the ones in Los Angeles, they are connected to water mains with lateral pipes, and these pipes have valves used to turn flow to the hydrant on and off. This is in addition to the valves built into the hydrant itself. These valves are used, among other things, to shut off flow when some twit drives into a hydrant and knocks it over.
If I wanted to introduce something into a water system through a fire hydrant, I might prefer to shut off the valve at the lateral, reducing the pressure at the hydrant to zero. I’d then open the hydrant valve, pour in whatever I wanted to add, shut the valve, and then open up the lateral to allow the nasty stuff to diffuse into the mains.
But this is a lot of work, the volume of what I can introduce is limited to the volume of the hydrant lateral, and it involves a lot of fiddling around in the public eye.

There are other ways to get stuff into the water system that work much better, and are much less likely to be spotted and stopped. And they don’t require access to water plants. Those are too well guarded nowadays, and the dilution factor is a concern — someone’s bound to notice a terrorist driving five tanker trucks up to a reservoir in order to introduce a dangerous amount of anything into the water.

Shane September 11, 2008 3:22 PM

“More and more, it seems as if public officials in this country have simply gone insane.”

Biologists have known for quite some time that centuries of inbreeding and circle-jerks tend to create these types of mental deficiencies in closed populations.

Squishyman September 11, 2008 3:28 PM

If they want to put in something only to “flush out the system” then they should use something that won’t be confused with a real fire hydrant.

And the “special tool” in the video. Gee, that would just be too difficult for a “terrorist” to buy or fabricate 😛

Anonymous September 11, 2008 3:34 PM

“More and more, it seems as if public officials in this country have simply gone insane.”

You’re assuming that fighting terrorism is actually their reason for turning off the hydrants. I don’t know about this case, but it seems to be increasingly common for public officials to give “terrorism” as a reason for whatever it is they want to do anyway.

Petréa Mitchell September 11, 2008 3:36 PM

I’m thinking the vandalism mentioned is the company’s main concern, and terrorism just provided a convenient excuse. I’m not sure what kind of vandalism they’re worried about that turning off the water would help, but here’s one possibility: In places where it gets very hot (like Texas), people are known to sometimes open up hydrants and enjoy the free (to them) water. Though I’ve only ever heard about this happening in heavily urbanized areas…

Andrew September 11, 2008 3:36 PM

This is several layers of bogus, including your own evaluation, Bruce.

1) There exists such a thing as a LOCKING HYDRANT. These are common, especially in urban areas.


The goal is to prevent unauthorized water usage, especially by contractors, which is expensive. However the locks are an added cost too.

2) The issue here is that the hydrants were “dry hydrants” which is a common rural practice. You cannot afford to leave that many hydrants ‘hot’ just in case there is going to be a fire. There are maintenance and system pressure issues involved.


I have sites with wet hydrants and dry hydrants. The Texas practice of painting dry hydrants black is a good idea. In California they are sometimes labeled. However, if you paid attention in Fire Technology 1 you can tell the difference by sight, too.

3) If the rural FD did not know their district well enough to carry basic unlocking and hydrant tools, SHAME ON THEM! jmefireequipment.com/department/268/1/Wrenches-Tools.aspx

Whoever stocked their apparatus should be ashamed of themselves. (You ALWAYS carry hydrant wrenches!) Whoever trained them should go do some remedial classes. Whoever didn’t map out the water sources in their district should pay for a new house for this clueless homeowner. ISO called, they want their fire protection rating back.

4) One advantage of a dry hydrant is that the valve is underground and largely protected from freezing and from motor vehicle accidents. A wet hydrant can freeze (not common here in California) but if sheared off in a car wreck, will waste large amounts of water and require the mains to be shut off for repairs. Not so with a dry hydrant.

5) Dry hydrants do not prevent terrorism. They can be opened with commonly available tools. (How common: let’s put it this way, I’ve purchased them without credentials or comment.)

If you’re going to attack a water system, you do it at the water plant or at the storage tanks . . . which have virtually no security anyway.

Arson is a much more credible threat. If one tampers with fire systems at the same time, that is a worse problem.

The one accurate point is that the decision to use dry hydrants is a system issue influenced by standard operating practices and economics, with a tinge of politics. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH TERRORISM. So when Clay Hodges blames this on terrorism, he’s stretching credulity at best.

Eric September 11, 2008 3:37 PM

I’m not sure how it’s done everywhere else. In our city it’s on a seperate system and is not potable water. I’d assume it’s the same most places. It’d be a waste to dump drinking water on a fire, and it’d be crazy to maintain the public system at that pressure.

The pressure drop when one is opened and the way the lines are layed out here, make it easy to locate. If one is opened the police will be there in less than 5 minutes.

The rural area’s don’t have hydrants here. So fires here take a lot of trucks sometimes. (or perhaps a trip to a farmers pond)

Where I work (Chemical Plant) they have a private fire system, the hydrants run about 150Psi with just pressure off the supply, plus they have pumps to boost it higher when it’s needed.

nzruss September 11, 2008 3:40 PM


they need to turn off ALL OF THE WATER, as someone could use the same technique from THEIR HOME!

Scott K September 11, 2008 3:45 PM

@Rich: in many rural areas, it is not feasible to maintain water pressure at hydrants. In these areas, you’ll often find “dry hydrants” which amount to a pipeline to a local lake/reservoir/water table that a fire truck can pump water out of, supplying their own firefighting water pressure.

Joe Terrorist September 11, 2008 3:51 PM

Rats! Foiled again!

One day I was standing on my apartment’s tiny balcony, looking out over the reservoir, when I realized that I could just poison everybody. I had planned on putting the chemical in a fire hydrant and flushing it all the way back to the reservoir to get a wide dispersal. But, now that the hydrants are turned off, I’ll just have to find a different way of annoying the neighbors.

BTW, the local chapter of Terrorists-R-Us is going skinning dipping in the reservoir tonight. You’re free to join us; but, it is BYOB.

Steve Shockley September 11, 2008 3:52 PM

I like this line:

“The neighborhood association’s now working to get the tools in the hands of homeowners, as an extra precaution.”

Let’s lock everything up. Locks are inconvenient though, so we’ll all use the same key for everything.

Eric Arrr September 11, 2008 3:58 PM


This is yet another example of what one might call “security as a scapegoat.”

No doubt the water district found itself able to save money by avoiding the need to maintain full water pressure in the system.

Another example is the one-item-per-passenger rule at Heathrow airport, which exists “for security reasons.” What Heathrow has discovered is that it can reduce the personnel costs necessary to maintain required service levels, in terms of passenger throughput, by reducing the number of bags per passenger.

Tim September 11, 2008 4:13 PM

Re: dry hydrants. Dry hydrants are very common–they are used where ever it might freeze. Instead, these hydrants hook to the water pipe below the frost line and the fire department uses a tool to get the water to the hydrant and on to their hoses.

Also, for poisoning: don’t most (if not all) water pipes lead back to a water tower and not (directly) to a reservoir? So how could one put some toxin in a water pipe and expect to poison a city? At best, they would only get part of the city.

Anonymous September 11, 2008 4:41 PM


Yes most places that have ample drinking water supplies use the same supply for fighting fires. Its a whole lot cheaper than creating a different system for fires.The pressure needed to pump water and keep the drinking supply safe is more than enough to pressure hydrants as well.

Anonymous September 11, 2008 4:46 PM

“I don’t know enough about the fire hydrant system, but is it on the same system as the drinking water? If so, one could try to stuff something solid into it that would dissolve and spread into the normal water system. Overcoming the back pressure would be a huge obstacle. It’s one of those “in theory”…but good luck trying to do it thing.”

One would hope that it isn’t that simple to contaminate a water supply. Simple back-flow prevention values would solve this problem. w

Haceldama September 11, 2008 4:53 PM

I suppose next thing is toilet-cams.
How else can we protect against massive influx of ABC-Warfare substances into our watersupply!?

MailDeadDrop September 11, 2008 4:58 PM

@Andrew: You mis-understand. The hydrants were not merely dry hydrants; but they were also turned off by a second well-below-grade valve reachable only using a non-standard 6-foot-long square drive wrench (which, btw is not listed in your link to fire hydrant wrenches). There’s no problem with the hydrant being a normal “dry” type (with integral single below-grade valve actuated using a 5-sided wrench). And there’s no obvious reason for a properly functioning hydrant to affect “maintenance and system pressure issues”. Can you provide a cite to backup this claim? I suspect the purpose of the additional non-standard valve is to hinder water theft (farmers?).

In any case, the “terroristic activities” the corporate toadie spoke of are complete baloney. You wanna terrorize people via the water system? Go disable a bunch of hydrants (power hacksaw off the valve nut) and firebomb the neighborhood.

jdw242b September 11, 2008 5:04 PM


stupider still: the hydrant in front of my parent’s house is on to clean out rust, etc. The city is too tight to replace the line so they waste the water instead.

Christopher Browne September 11, 2008 5:07 PM

The REAL problem is actually a different one than is first suggested. It’s not really about a concern about contamination (which is clearly what the utility would like to have us believe).

The REAL problem is that the utility is using “fighting terrorism” as an excuse to evade operational costs.

If they shut the water off, and refuse to promise that the hydrant system works, then THAT means they don’t even really need to do any work maintaining this portion of the water utility. If they’re not promising water or water pressure, so they don’t have to keep the relevant bits of the system up to any sort of specifications.

If people hear, “Oh, it’s because of terrorism!”, and accept that, then the utility operators get to evade some operational costs.

So, this isn’t about having “bad security,” it’s about using a veneer of babbling nonsense about security in order to avoid responsibility.

Eric Arrr September 11, 2008 5:54 PM


Amen, brother – that’s exactly what I said.

The all-important directive of SECURITY is a very handy scapegoat for any agendum that imposes cost or inconvenience upon others.

groovy-prog September 11, 2008 6:16 PM

There are some people who somehow just become unable to reason to a very huge degree that are doing the decision making and using everything in the name of terrorism to just make situations far worse like switching off fire hydrants…

What happen if a fire start ? Would they want to scramble to look fro something to switch the hydrants back on wasting precious time to get pepople trapped in buildings killed by fire rather than terrorism ? Well… maybe their answer is YES.

tennisgroovy September 11, 2008 6:48 PM

Sorry to digress..

That was one of the worst webpage I have ever been on. As soon as I clicked on, popup screens, both left and right sides, all are Ads. I am only reading a small narrow paragraph in the middle. Ridiculous. Just ridiculous.

Jilara September 11, 2008 6:52 PM

Hmm, when the 1908 Quake hit San Francisco, followed by the Great Fire, they found that a lot of the fire hydrants weren’t functional. So non-functional that they weren’t even connected. A great scam would be to “install” a hydrant system that doesn’t connect but charge folks for one that does. Have one you can demo for show, then the rest don’t work. Tell folks it’s turned off so terrorists can’t mess with them.

Cairnarvon September 11, 2008 6:55 PM

The only effective acts of terrorism I can really think of involving fire hydrants involves shutting them down so firemen won’t have water to fight fires with. Mission accomplished!

Rich B September 11, 2008 8:07 PM

Introducing toxins into the water via fireplugs obviously is a serious problem. The utility should be forced to pay for an armed National Guard soldier for each hydrant.

There’s some slight possibility the armed trooper may go bonkers — perhaps driven mad by the stupidity of guarding a hydrant 24×7. Let’s assign an officer to supervise the soldier.

But what if the officer goes bonkers? I know: let’s disarm the officer. There — Now We’re Safe.

Dave September 11, 2008 8:11 PM

Didn’t New York and Washington need fire hydrants to be working on 9/11, since two buildings caught fire?

jaded soldier September 11, 2008 10:37 PM

The company should be sued for negligence. That is absolutely rediculous. What the heck are you going to do (evil wise) with a fire hydrant? Rig some hydraulic evil terror machine based on water pressure? Are kids in Los Angeles (who wrongly turn one on, and need a reprimand from their parents) playing in a fire hydrant terrorists. God forbid the unruly children play a prank and spray a fire hydrant on the street and ride their bicycles through it. Terrorists!!!!! Terrorists I say!!! Send them to Guantanamo!!!!

Seriously. I thought it was building/ city zoning/ordnance that a fire hydrant needed to be active…. It is in my community.

another bruce September 11, 2008 11:57 PM

i remember a mad magazine cartoon strip years ago about some folks who were upset that water was routinely injected into hams to increase their weight for sale, so they protested by throwing hams into the reservoir.

cmot September 12, 2008 1:13 AM

“More and more, it seems as if public officials in this country have simply gone insane.”

I’ve recently seen your country called the “Excited States of America”. I guess it’s somewhat correct. (on http://madduck.net/blog/)

“vandalism”: In Switzerland, it’s commonn to have hydrants off the regular water supply. Opening a hydrant all the way and then closing it suddenly is known to have caused some of the older water lines to burst. (Happened at my parents place, although it wasn’t vandalism but somebody who didn’t know enough or just wasn’t careful at a fire fighting exercise. Water line in our sreet burst in three places. Quite expensive …)

Jesse McNelis September 12, 2008 1:59 AM

your apparent lack of understanding of Darwin’s theory appears to put you in the same place as these ‘stupid people’.
Darwin says: survival of the fittest, not the smartest, fastest or most inventive.
It has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with adaptation to a changing environment.

averros September 12, 2008 2:36 AM

More and more, it seems as if public officials
in this country have simply gone insane.

Anyone who thinks that “public officials” are somehow more insane than people who believe that they need public officials is insane.

Anonymous September 12, 2008 7:05 AM

Here’s a shocker: its all about money, and yes it does make sense.

This is a case of a municipality not providing infrastructure to new development. The private water company provides things which look like fire hydrants. They are not fire hydrants, they are water system flushing devices owned by a PRIVATE company.

Notice the PRIVATE company which provides the devices is not legally required to provide water to them, nor provide enough water pressure to fight fires. The PRIVATE company just uses the devices to flush their water system. They are not fire hydrants.

To make them fire hydrants would require a large water source (water is expensive in north Texas), constant monitoring (people and equipment), continual pipe repair (repair crews with equipment). All that costs money – a lot of it.

It’s cheaper to let the occasional house burn than spend that kind of money in a rural area. Notice only one house burned down. The cost of the fire hydrant system exceeds that cost.

You didn’t hear the homeowner complain about his low taxes because the municipality didn’t need to build fire hydrant infrastructure. His fire insurance is probably a little higher because of the lack of fire hydrants, and it is paying to rebuild the house.

The terrorism card is convenient to play since it stifles criticism; I bet it is very effective in North Texas. It’s not the real reason and the municipality knows it.

rip September 12, 2008 7:34 AM

It may be difficult to introduce a substance into a pressurized system, but a dry hydrant system could easily be compromised, like a dirty bomb, it won’t be about effectively killing anyone, it will be about selling the fear. a couple of pounds of mercury or other industrial waste waiting patiently in some hydrant bottom for pressure to come by on the way somewhere else will not be discovered quickly, but when it is, long after the perpetrator is long gone, It will make the local area as popular as Love Canal, but then we have love canals all over placed there by antienvironmental corporations who can keep the pollution secret as they have done, are doing and will do. Clean environment for the grandkids cost money, that bothers millionaires and corrupt politicians.

anonymous canuck September 12, 2008 8:13 AM

I agree, follow the money. Then when something bad inevitably happens don’t give your spokespeople well thought out prepared positions, let them improvise on the spot. And, if that was a prepared statement, … (I just won’t open that barrel of stupiduty).

“The terrorism card is convenient to play since it stifles criticism; ” …. more like attracts criticism! I question why journalists don’t jump all over people who throw out lines like that. We used to have critical media, what happened?

On freezing hydrants (being from the Great White North), they’re pretty well insulated in Ontario. Mind you, with last years record snow falls we had a number of hydrants sheared off by snow plows – an impressive sight. When the spring thaw came there were a few yellow fire plugs that emerged from the mountains of snow cleaned up.

bob September 12, 2008 8:41 AM

No fire hydrant needed – you could more easily rent a house/apartment/hotel room and force toxins back down the water line in privacy. (not to the source, just back into the water main and then into everyone’s water that lives “downstream” of your entry point. In my neighborhood, water pressure is around 40 psi, I can EASILY generate more pressure than that (indeed I have done so, using compressed air at 60 psi blown into the drain valve of my water heater to break up a sand block in the tank).

Yes, most water meters have a backflow preventer valve (otherwise water heaters would not explode), but I bet not ALL of them are robust enough to prevent an intentional reverse pressure. The line might rupture first and it might not. If it does, go somewhere else and try again. If it does not; ie the backflow is overriden, then pump in the toxin and fly back to the middle east/Hollywood (whichever) satisfied in a job well done.

Paul September 12, 2008 8:44 AM

“what sort of terrorism is possible using working fire hydrants?”


Most people around here can’t drive for shit in the rain, the moment the road gets a bit damp they get terrified and slow down to half the speed limit, or they end up shiny side down in a ditch.

Instant mayhem! Just add water!

Seriously, if someone could force a contaminant into the supply by pushing it into a hydrant with sufficient pressure, what’s to stop them from hooking up their pressurized toxin injection system to the water supply at a motel or someplace else that’s hooked to the supply, achieving the same end result? Or easier yet, just find the reservoir supplying the system and dump directly into it?

“We used to have critical media, what happened?”

That would be a combination of Rupert Murdoch and an endless chase for ratings (ratings = more advertising $$$) dumbing everything down, on top of the fear of somehow causing offense by criticizing those who “make us safer from terrorism”. People don’t want to think any more, they just want spoon-fed with what they already believe, while being reassured that they’re safe from the big bad terrorists.

Jeremiah September 12, 2008 10:27 AM

Public officials in this country are those people that couldn’t get a job anywhere else doing something useful using their brain like the rest of the hard workers in America.

Dood September 12, 2008 2:54 PM

Re the comment that the stupid people are outbreeding us: “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” Lately, the people who voted for Reagan and the Bushes have been the ones sending their offspring off for the oil wars. No grandkids — or DNA — for THEM.

Davi Ottenheimer September 12, 2008 3:09 PM

Anything you disagree with in America is now referred to as terrorism. Have a bad sandwich at lunch, it is surely made by terrorists. Beer poured with too much head, terrorists are clearly lurking behind the bar.

On a related note, the map of tainted water in America shows pharmaceuticals have become a documented threat to national security:


“Drugs taken for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems contaminate drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans […] Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, does not require water utilities to test for these substances.”

darwins brother September 12, 2008 5:33 PM

When it comes to survival of the fittest I would argue that intelligence plays a key role in homo sapiens fitness for survival.

Karl Lembke September 12, 2008 9:29 PM

Davi Ottenheimer:
“Drugs taken for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems contaminate drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans […] Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, does not require water utilities to test for these substances.”


We get to monitor for pharmaceuticals in water sources, as well as an array of other chemicals under UCMR. As detection limits decrease, the pressure to reduce contamination to insanely low levels increases.

funkyj September 13, 2008 3:08 AM

for all the people saying “this isn’t crazy because the hydrants CAN be used by terrorists to contaminate drinking water”. WTF? Terrorists can’t aquire the tool to turn the hydrants on?

Mark September 13, 2008 6:51 AM

I don’t know enough about the fire hydrant system, but is it on the same system as the drinking water? If so, one could try to stuff something solid into it that would dissolve and spread into the normal water system.

If anyone wanted to do this it would probably be easier to introduce the contamination at a pumping station or water tower.

They could even attempt duplicate something like the accident at the Lowermoor Water Treatment Works 20 years ago.

Mark September 13, 2008 7:12 AM

@Karl Lembke
Water mains in rural areas could be long enough that the dynamic pressure drop could make it impossible to pump enough water for fire suppression. Well, you could pump enough water, but you’d need enough pressure to blow out plumbing in any houses that were close to the pump station.

Unless you fit a valve to reduce the water pressure at those near to the pumping station…
What matters for fire fighting is how great a rate of flow the pipes will support. The pressure for the hoses is provided by one or more engine driven pumps. (The same engine which can allow a large and heavy truck to quickly get to the scene of the fire). A lake or river can also be used as a water supply.

@Karl Lembke
This is in addition to the valves built into the hydrant itself. These valves are used, among other things, to shut off flow when some twit drives into a hydrant and knocks it over.

On Discovery Channel’s “How It’s Made” they showed construction of hydrants where the hydrant valve is at least a metre underground. Thus someone driving into one hard enough to break it will just knock off outlet part and the break the shaft which operates the valve.

Mark September 13, 2008 7:21 AM

@Steve Shockley
Let’s lock everything up. Locks are inconvenient though, so we’ll all use the same key for everything.

Not to worry firefighters have a “universal key”. Only problem is that it won’t leave the lock in one place…

Anonymous September 15, 2008 7:36 AM

Come on everyone, let keep our hats on. This official probably just came from a HazMat or DHS briefing and had that in mind when they said this. Probably the person just meant that since 9/11 there was an increase in awareness and so vandalism and crime was being looked at differently. They even said doing so is “Something a trade association spokesman tells us is common practice for rural systems.” We all know there is no terror threat coming from fire hydrants.

brasscount September 15, 2008 8:51 AM

Two words: Backflow prevention (Or is that three?) Several years ago in Roanoke, VA, a pest control company running out of some guys basement hooked up a 55 gallon drum of a bug killing chemical to a hose. The hose ran water into the drum, but would stop if the valve on the drum was unopened.

When a water main ruptured down the street, though, it pulled the chemical back into the pipes forcing a water department shutdown of the neighborhood (thirty to thirty-five blocks). There was no backflow prevention system in place on the neighborhood water system.

Would it be possible to do something similar and thereby contaminate drinking water supplies, on purpose or accidentally? Not to overstate the risk, but its really easy for joe redneck to do something stupid like pump water from a fireplug into his hog pen cesspool, and end up sucking it all back in to the drinking water.

Jan Egil Kristiansen September 15, 2008 9:08 AM

I have actually experienced drinking water contamination via a kind of fire hydrant. A ship in the harbor was testing its fire systems. A valve that should have been closed, was open, and sea water from the inner harbor was pumped into the ship’s drinking water supply, and on to the city’s supply.

The coffee I made with that water tasted awful. A friend of mine got sick enough to miss a Toto concert.

Casper September 15, 2008 10:43 AM

Tampering with the water delivery system is actually not that difficult and the amount of back pressure does not need to be significant to introduce contaminants into the system especially since the pressure in the system can fluctuate according to the demand at any given time.

A number of years ago there was an incident at a school in Cape Town, South Africa. The school had two water feeds, one containing drinking water and another for processed waste water to be used for irrigation. A careless plumber connected the two systems and contaminated the drinking water. A number of children fell ill.

Just a comment on backflow valves and that is the cost implications. To fully protect any supply would require a backflow valve at least at every connection and probably at every branch as well. To retrofit valves would not be viable and there would be reluctance to do so for new installations for the same cost reasons.

Karl Lembke September 16, 2008 4:32 PM

A wet barrel hydrant is filled with pressurized water. The valves that are operated by fire crews are above ground. There is a gate valve on the lateral that supplies the hydrant, which can be used to turn off the supply to the entire hydrant.

When someone knocks over a hydrant, break-away bolts at ground level give way, so the riser underground is not damaged. Bolting the hydrant back on is cheap and easy — digging down to repair a fractured riser is expensive and hard.

Karl Lembke September 16, 2008 4:36 PM


Another factor to consider with backflow prevention valves is that the cheap ones don’t provide very good protection, and the good ones aren’t cheap. LADWP requires different levels of protection on different water services, depending on whether the water service is residential or not, and if not, what sort of business it belongs to.

jon September 17, 2008 6:51 AM

Steve, I could have predicted that you’d be quiveringly soft on Islamofirehydrantofascist related terrorism event operations.

You simply don’t understand the problem: we must preserve at all costs our precious national bodily fluids, and keep them safe in the pipes, as God intended. It is our sacred duty.

Now, then.

There is a zero dimension to the potential for terrorism related to fire hydrants. Kids open hydrants in the summer and the FD then goes and closes them up, puts on better locking caps, and maybe installs a sprinkler fitting and gives someone on the block the special wrench. Then there’s vandalism and accidents, which amount to maintenance and repair headaches. Quite an inconvenience, and no one wants their house or car flooded, but not exactly terrorism.

In fact, any terrorist worth his salt would rapidly conclude that the effort needed to cause terrorism through a fire hydrant vector could easily yield far more damage if directed elsewhere. Even those comments that supposed that large fires exacerbated by a crippled hydrant system have it wrong: For the costs and effort of disabling the hydrants, you could produce a vastly larger and more damaging set of fires that would outstrip the capability of the working hydrant system.

Besides, people are generally more fearful of fire than water, and the purpose of terrorism is to sow fear.

the little ½bakery of horrors September 17, 2008 11:14 PM

“When it comes to survival of the fittest I would argue that intelligence plays a key role in homo sapiens fitness for survival.”

“if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich”? hardly. donald dump.

but really, shouldn’t homo sapiens be evolving greater intelligence much faster (than H.s. may or may not be), if intelligence were a superior reproductive asset?
re: buildings burning, prevention vs dousing: far more “intelligent” (cough) affluent people somehow find themselves buying crappy 4k+ sf homes made, when they should be buying well-built 1000-1200 sf homes.

David October 6, 2008 7:53 PM

I recently attended a seminar called awpca, there was a device that could be installed inside fire hydrant. this may be of interest to you. the name of the company or device was called the davidson valve. I have attached the website link.


TopAssistant November 29, 2008 4:56 PM

When the federal government funds rural water systems they will not fund fire hydrants in the system or provide water mains large enough to supply the volume of water necessary to supply a fire truck. Can a chemical, biological, or nuclear material be pumped into a wet or dry fire hydrant? Yes. How many water tankers in construction areas do you see hooking up to a fire hydrant? A lot of them around road construction areas. A terrorist can make a simple dirty bomb by adding nuclear waste in a 5,000-gallon water tanker then pumping it into a fire hydrant in any city in the country. What is going to stop them?

Dj August 3, 2010 1:16 PM

I am a professional civil engineer with years of experience in designing water system.

First of all, turning off the fire hydrant will not stop a determined terrorist, it takes a simple tool and maybe a couple of minutes to turn it back on.

Secondly, Fire Hydrant normally has at least 200 pounds per square inch pressure with 2000 gallons per minute flow. It takes a huge pump to counter that pressure and flow to reverse the water flow back to the water mainline.

Third, why bother doing your dirty work on a fire hydrant where it is in public view. A smart terrorist can do the same work by accessing a private firemain which is mostly in private lot and not in public view.

Fourth, even a 5,000 gallons of toxins will not do serious harm to the public once it is diluted with million gallons of clean water. Yes it can contamnate the water system but it will have no fatal effect to most population.

Fifth, most system has backflow preventer, meaning you cannot force the water to flow reversely.

So with the reasons above, have confidence that our water system is safe, it is not bullet proof. but it will take a high caliber thinking before the safety can be compromised.

YourMom April 18, 2023 9:35 PM

I won’t go into the details but the pressure isn’t a problem and you all have no idea what you’re talking about. I looked into this after I saw some suspicious people messing with a hydrant in my neighborhood. Pretty sure they were stealing water for construction and commercial cleaning jobs. Anyhow, the city has marked vehicles and 1) they were operating after normal city maintenance hours (i.e., after 4pm) and 2) although it was white, their truck was an unmarked model the city does not use and 3) none of them were wearing city maintenance uniforms or ppe and most importantly 4) I checked the city website and the last bid to a private contractor was 2 years ago and had nothing to do with water lines or fire hydrants, or my neighborhood for that matter.

Sergio April 19, 2023 8:19 PM

@ darwins brother • September 12, 2008 5:33 PM

Re “When it comes to survival of the fittest I would argue that intelligence plays a key role in homo sapiens fitness for survival.”

“Intelligence” isn’t the same as wisdom. Just look at the state of the world and planet.

At the core of homo sapiens is unwisdom (ie, madness) and so the human label of “wise” (ie, sapiens) is a complete collective self-delusion — study the free scholarly essay The 2 Married Human Pink Elephants In The Historical Room

Winter April 20, 2023 1:40 AM


At the core of homo sapiens is unwisdom (ie, madness)

No, at the core of humanity is a drive to self-preservation and working together. Humans are fundamentally social animals. For humans, other people are literally the meaning of life.

The pandemic was a case in point. There was panic because people were dying and we saw the specter of ~100M people dying. Then the social herd instincts of panic set in with everybody running after anyone who gave the impression to have a solution, eg, denying the whole thing.

The start of the pandemic was marked with uncertainty and panic. Everybody and their mother were proposing solutions, none of which worked as the germ was completely new. People who took mega doses of vitamin C died just as readily as those who did not (just as they have done since Linus Pauling started the craze).

In the end, epidemic sense, improved ICU treatment, a large library of drugs, and vaxxing helped. The effort were helped by simple Darwinian evolution of the germ that also had no advantage of killing their host.

But meanwhile, millions died needlessly because they ran after the wrong craze, or were ruled by those who rather have them worked to death than reducing their income [1].

Dying for the Economy: Disposable People and Economies of Death in the Global North

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggests he, other seniors willing to die to get economy going again

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