Are Fire Hydrants Too Socialist?


There were bodies everywhere. I’d never seen anything like it before–especially on a dog-walk…


It was a dream of mine since I’d first read the <em>How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs</em> to work on a dig. I dreamed of buried treasure–triceratops horns, a mummy (without a curse), a Neanderthal skull or my sister’s bracelet that I buried in the mud under a neighbors’ swing-set. I checked on it periodically for the mud to turn to stone with the intention of cracking it open and impressing my friends. (I’m still waiting on that one–sorry Colleen. The next time I’m in Cincinnati I’ll see if it’s ready yet.)


Nothing quite as glamorous on that dog-walk, but I did have that chill run down my spine when I heard, then saw, the bulldozer.  My dad used to take me on rides in Detroit on Saturday mornings looking for steam-shovels, probably started by the classic children’s book, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel:


It’s actually a tragic story of modernization and the hard-worker falling behind the times, similar to “Puff the Magic Dragon,” about a kind heart led to a semi-tragic ending.  Mike’s crew neglected to give the poor shovel, Mary Anne, an out-ramp and she was trapped in the basement of a building where she was converted to a furnace.  Mary Anne seemed happy with the arrangement, but I wondered, even at five-years, if she missed the sunshine, fresh air and general freedom that came with her earlier life.

If we found a construction site, my dad and I would sit in the Falcon with some McDonald’s and watch the hard-hats do something important looking.  The diesel smell still is intermingled with the fries so it’s hard not to go to have a cement mixer drive by without me craving a Big Mac.


Apparently, it was time for the city to change the hydrants.  I’d never seen a hydrant fully-exposed and always assumed the tip of the iceberg was pretty much it.  


In 1976, I remember the patriotic project in Clawson (and apparently all over the country) was to paint your local hydrant to celebrate the bicentennial.

They even had contests that awarded the winners with a free Dorothy Hammil haircut…


Time passed and the hydrants molted and returned to their natural red hue.  Some species remained patriotic well into the 1990s, like some prehistoric fish trapped in a tidal pool:


But that pipe goes down quite deep and makes rusty turns in all sorts of hidden directions.  Looking at these clogged public arteries, I’m surprised they carried any water through at all.  It was definitely time for surgery.


While driving the kids to school the other day, I actually noticed a fire-hydrant.  They’re always there, and usually just mean no-parking, but I’d never before counted them.  (Not much else to do when you’ve got a van-load of sleepy teenagers.) I could count to fifteen, and then see another one.  Sometimes they even had little red flags so the high snow plowed banks wouldn’t hide them from the fire trucks.


A feature on hydrants that I always find odd and interesting is their dates.  Like bottles of wine, you might pass one and say, “Wow, that’s a “Manistee ’49,” helluva year for fire-prevention!”


I suppose they’re time-stamped so they know when to pull them out.  Perhaps 60-70 years is the generally rule of thumb for water and iron to no longer function together amicably.

But 1949 <em>was </em>a significant year The troops were home (for another year before the draft began again with the Korean War), baby-boomers were booming forth and the post-war American industry had switched back from bombers to Chevies. Maybe during prosperity social-responsibility is reinvigorated.

So I stood there with my camera-phone and exasperated dog wondering…

If fire hydrants were proposed today would the Michigan State Senate or my city council, even, approve them?

“I move to create a system of water-access so that every single piece of property could be protected in case of fire.”

“I would ask my respected colleague from the other side of the aisle to explain this gross misuse of the public’s trust and tax dollars.”

“Err…well…if your neighbors’ house catches on fire, your house could, you know, catch on fire.”

“Not my house, buddy, I’ve got a hose, a new sprinkler system and just recently covered my entire side walls with fire-proof siding.  So have my friends.”

The devastating fires in Chicago and San Francisco in the late 1800s prompted the mandate for municipal self-preservation–particularly since a bucket-brigade wasn’t always feasible–assuming your neighbors stop pretending they’re not home and answer the door.

Fire plugs are silly-looking and no one would certainly want one on their lawn if they had a choice. They’re handy jungle-gyms (just ask my sister Katie) or even an instant day-at-the-beach for someone with not enough subway fare to make it to Coney Island.


It’s common property on that common strip of land that you’re required to mow and keep neat. But anybody can use it without fear of trespassing. Go outside right now and try something. Stroll in front of your neighbor’s house, lean against the hydrant like a bar stool and check your phone for messages. Glance up to see the impotent, territorial glances from the front porch.

As I dragged the tugging dog away from this tempting pile of targets, I hoped that in 2083 when the the ’13 models are being exhumed, that they don’t just exist on my side of town–or worse yet, are the subject of a children’s book, The How and Why Wonder Book of Fire Hydrants or worse, Billy, the Lonely Little Fire Plug.


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About Kevin Walsh

Kevin began in 2013 as an experiment that was as simple as "What's a blog?" and ended up becoming a forum for fellow writers. He's been a high school teacher for 28 years and worked as an administrator and instructor in colleges for 10 years since then. Contact him at: He is also the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His high school media production text, "Video Direct," has been used in 40 states--and he occasionally still sells a few. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two kids Aidan and Abby who have all graciously allowed him to write about them on occasion.

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