Aside from being the historically-preferred location for canine bladder relief, fire hydrants serve an important function in providing access to a water supply system.
Fire Hydrants fall within one of two types; wet and dry barrel.
Dry Barrel, as implied, is not water-filled until the hydrant valve is opened. Dry hydrants are overwhelmingly the most popular type of hydrant within the United States to provide insulate using depth to prevent freezing portions of the water supply.
Wet Barrel hydrants, though infrequent, are used in portions of southern California and Florida. These hydrants have one or more operating stems which run horizontal at each outlet. As implied, wet barrel hydrants are water-filled at all times.
The conical cap for the hydrant, or bonnet, holds the operating stem nut in place and protects the hydrant from mechanical damage and water penetration.
The branch pipe serving the hydrant from the city main is one restriction for the overall capacity of a hydrant. While older systems often connect hydrants with 4-inch branch pipe, a minimum of 6-inch pipe should be used to limit pressure loss and permit greater flow capacity. Our friction loss tool can be helpful in estimating loss through these pipes.
The flange at the base of the hydrant is the point of connection for the hydrant to the rest of the barrel.
While the dimension from the bonnet to the flange of the hydrant is standard, the height of the flange becomes important during installation as it determines the height of the outlets. Because hydrants need to be quickly accessed during an active fire, hydrant outlets need to be installed tall enough to allow a full-revolution of a hydrant wrench from the lowest outlet.
Some jurisdictions paint hydrants or hydrant bonnets to identify the capacity of the hydrant.
NFPA 291, the Recommended Practice for Fire Flow Testing and Marking of Hydrants, suggests hydrant colors as Red/Class C, Orange/Class B, Green/Class A, and Light Blue/Class AA for Less than 500 gpm, up to 1,000 gpm, up to 1,500 gpm, and 1,500 gpm and more, respectively (NFPA 291-2019 18.104.22.168).
A traditional dry barrel fire hydrant contains three outlets: two 2 1/2-inch (65 mm) side outlets and a single 4 1/2-inch (115 mm) or 6-inch (150 mm) "pumper" outlet. The latter outlet gets its name as it is often the preferred choice for the fire department to connect and feed pumper trucks.
The size and number of the outlets serve as one limit to the capacity of the hydrant. While the typical hydrant described above is the most common type, other combinations certainly exist - downtown St. Louis, for instance, have hydrants with only a single pumper outlet.
The stem nut is the key to operating the valve within the hydrant. Typically shaped as a pentagon, the stem nut will turn the operating stem of the hydrant and raise the valve to an 'open' position when turned with a hydrant wrench.
Unless mechanically restrained, thrust blocks serve as a way to distribute the hydraulic force of the pipe network into the soil. Our thrust block calculator can be helpful in sizing these blocks.
When in the 'open' position, the valve at the bottom of a dry barrel hydrant rises to plug drain holes and simultaneously permit water to fill the barrel of the hydrant.
When in the 'closed' position, the valve lowers to block water passage and re-open drain holes at the bottom of the hydrant. These drain holes act as weeps which slowly drain the hydrant barrel and help prevent freezing.
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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.