FREAK Shots: The Sacred Hydrant

Freakonomics reader Rich Beckman took this photo in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Capitol building:

Fire HydrantPhoto: Rich Beckman

Then he asks a natural question: “If the hydrant isn’t working, what does it matter if someone parks there?”

Dubner asked a similar question on this blog: why is parking in front of fire hydrants prohibited in the first place (hoses are flexible for a reason), especially as parking becomes a rare commodity?

Maybe as a start, hydrant spots — following RexCorp’s example — can be reserved for hybrid drivers only.

(Send your FREAK-worthy photos here.)

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  1. Jeff S. says:

    Who decided that hybrids help the environment?

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  2. Jenny says:

    Well, the logical answer might be that the “No Parking” sign was there before the hydrant went out of service, but I still want to know where the sign asking dogs to refrain from relieving themselves is.

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  3. AH says:

    Dude, you can’t park in front of a hydrant SO THAT THE HYDRANT IS EASIER TO FIND! So that the fire department doesn’t have to spend 10 minutes looking for the thing being blocked by somebody’s SUV while the building burns down.


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  4. M says:

    As a Washingtonian, I’d say that parking is prohibited all over the place near the Capitol now, largely out of fears of terrorism. This spot is probably banned because it’s near that building, not because of the defunct hydrant.

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  5. DJH says:

    I can think of a few valid reasons for this. The most likely are:

    1. They’re planning to do some work on the street or sidewalk; water’s been shut off, and parking prohibited, in anticipation.

    2. The hydrant — or water service in its vicinity — is malfunctioning, and they plan to work on it.

    Granted, these are sound, rational reasons to prohibit parking in front of a non-functional hydrant. Government rarely, if ever, does anything for sound, rational reasons. So I cannot guarantee that these account for the photo. They’re merely possibilities.

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  6. matking says:

    AH is correct about finding the hydrants. It is also often difficult to get to it when a car is parked right up next to the curb. It is true that hoses are flexible while being rolled off the truck, but not so much when water is running through them under pressure.

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  7. pcs says:

    “Hoses are flexible for a reason.” Well, yes, but they don’t fight fires with garden hoses. Fire hoses are heavy, bulky and, when filled, dangerous. They have to be laid relatively straight, not kinked around cars.

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  8. mfw13 says:


    You would think that with modern technology, fire departments would have a computerized map in the truck indicating the location of hydrants. Additionally, I would hope that new hydrants are being outfitted with GPS chips to make them easier to find.

    Of course, here in Seattle, hydrants are painted green, which makes them almost impossible to spot at night….go figure.

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