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Water supply: Procedures must take precedence

Blocked hydrant incident highlights differences between public opinion and fire service best practices


Firefighters responding to an 2019 apartment fire in Anaheim, California, unexpectedly set the stage for an important discussion that pitted fire procedure against public opinion.

Photo/Anaheim Fire & Rescue

Check out this controversy at play again, this time in New Jersey: NJ firefighters smash minivan windows to connect hose to hydrant.

For today’s discussion of water supply, we reach back to a controversy from last year, when firefighters responding to an apartment fire in Anaheim, California, unexpectedly set the stage for an important discussion that pitted fire procedure against public opinion.

The fire department needed to establish a water supply during the incident – and it is for exactly this reason that the city of Anaheim is outfitted with hydrants. The fire itself was no more special than any other fire to which the department had responded, or any other department for that matter, but it made news because the hydrant was blocked by a parked car.

As you will see from the photos, the fire department established the water supply by breaking out the car’s back windows and running the supply line through the car. This resulted in a lot of push back from Anaheim residents who wondered why the fire department did not exercise other options. So, let’s examine the options suggested by the public and the possible domino effects of choosing these other options.

Suggestion #1: Run the hose over top the car

First, one of the options suggested was that the fire department could have run the hose on top of the car as opposed to going right through the back seat. Could the firefighters have done this while still getting water? Maybe, but there are a few factors that must be present for that to be realistic. The car would have had to be parked a little farther from the curb to allow the hose to ascend up and over without creating kinks in the supply line.

In the pictures, we can see that there is already a kink right at the hose coupling because the hose is ascending up and into the back window. As we all know, kinks are not good for the fire service because they diminish the water supply. Decrease the water supply and we are setting our dominoes up for problems right from the start.

The best water supply situation is to have the supply hose come off the hydrant and gradually descend down to the ground flowing to the intake of the engine – no kinks with this one. With the car parked as close as it was to the curb, the hose would be kinked quite a bit in order to go up and over the car. So, it looks like the fire department did the right thing by going through the car to allow for minimal kinks and adequate water supply from the source.

Suggestion #2: Tow the car

Second, residents suggested that the fire department could have moved the car by towing it, thus exposing the hydrant for easy access. The problem with this option is self-explanatory – the fire department was working against time. A tow truck is not part of the first-alarm response for any fire department, so waiting for one to arrive would have only lined up more dominoes by giving the fire time to grow and spread.

Suggestion #3: Use a different hydrant

Lastly, residents thought the fire department could have used a different hydrant. Certainly, there are more hydrants available within the city, but how far away from the fire location is the next hydrant? As with most cities, hydrants are spaced out in incremental distances to supply water easily for any part of the city, but the hydrant closest to the fire is going to be the best hydrant to use. Locating the next hydrant would take more time and would only line up more dominoes – time for the fire to grow and spread and something we don’t ever want to happen. So, it seems that using the closest hydrant is the best option.

Follow procedure, not the public wishes

Ordinary citizens make mistakes, such as parking in front of a hydrant, but fire departments shouldn’t let this dictate procedure decisions that could lead to mistakes. Instead of following the public’s suggestions or desires, we must conduct our operation as we normally would so that we don’t create our own domino effect!

For the record, the Anaheim Fire Department posted this message on its Twitter page: “We posted this incident to illustrate and educate, not to humiliate anyone. In answer as to why break the windows instead of going under, over, or around the car... it doesn’t work. The hose needs a straight line out of the hydrant. We do not damage property unless it is needed.”

Editor’s Note: Has your department faced a similar controversy after damaging property in the line of conducting fire operations? If so, share your story with

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.