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City Officials: 'Don't Open A Fire Hydrant To Stay Cool'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- One big problem the city is not happy about amid this week's heat wave: the number of open fire hydrants.

Since Monday, the city has shut off more than 1,700 open hydrants, with roughly 200 still gushing as of 5 p.m. on Thursday.

CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reports that open hydrants are a major safety concern.

Open fire hydrants can create water pressure problems for firefighters when they're trying to douse a blaze. Plus, officials say open hydrants are an accident waiting to happen.

It might look like a cool way to beat the heat, but open fire hydrants are a major public safety issue.

"Don't open a fire hydrant to stay cool," said Gary Schenkel, executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

But that message is lost on many children who play in the spray of water from open hydrants to keep cool and to some adults who defend the practice.

"Actually I feel it's great for the kids stop, man, to some of the killing; stop all the negative behavior that's going on out here," South Side resident Patrick Strange said.

It's easy to see some of the complications that open hydrants present. Kids can disappear in the water's strong spray, hiding them from drivers who might not necessarily slow down as they pass an open hydrant.

"The kids need to be more alert themselves and know they are actually playing in the street," South Side resident Evie Foster said.

Strange said that, even though kids playing in the spray from an open hydrant might be at risk from motorists who can't see them, "they might get killed just for nothing, just standing here. They got nothing to do."

The torrents also reduce water pressure, threatening the city's ability to fight a potential fire at worst and reducing water pressure to nearby homes and businesses at the very least.

Foster said that when someone opens the hydrant on her block the water pressure at her house is "a little low, but it doesn't go off

Since Monday, city crews have closed 1,714 open hydrants, with 207 still open shortly before 5 p.m.

In many cases, like at 53rd Street and King Drive, someone opened a hydrant that had been closed at least once before after complaints from neighbors.

"I didn't come down yesterday, but I said I need to go down today, stick my legs in the water," Foster said.

Asked who opened that hydrant on Thursday, Strange said, "Actually, I do not know, sir. But whoever did it, I was proud of them to do something positive like this."

Crews who have been sent to close open hydrants said that, often when they arrive to shut them off, they're met with a lot of anger from some of the residents.

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