Posted by Everett J. Prescott on May 08, 2015 8:30 AM

Fire Hydrant Behind a Fence

Clean running water is necessary to maintain businesses and keep residences safe and comfortable. However, access to the water supply is necessary for firefighters too—that is why fire hydrants exist. Fire hydrants work by allowing a firefighter to tap into a pressurized system of water. The firefighter will fasten a hose to the hydrant and can pump water with a varying flow volume. The color of the hydrant’s body and the different nozzle the firefighter uses can indicate how heavy the flow is.

Two main types of fire hydrants are found in most areas—wet barrel and dry barrel hydrants. Each of these have different types of structure and allow for a different style of firefighting. Additionally, there is a third, similar, structure called a standpipe, which can often be used alongside fire hydrants to make for a complete firefighting system. Spend some time learning about the different types of hydrants available so you can choose the right one for your situation.

Wet Barrel Hydrants

A wet barrel hydrant is the basic, traditional style of a fire hydrant. When it is properly maintained, it can have a working lifespan of over 100 years. All the mechanical parts are above ground; so few debris will enter the hydrant. The outlet valves and nozzles are easy to access, and all work independently. This means that firefighters can add additional discharge lines without risking shutdown.

While the convenience of aboveground nozzles and mechanics is important, it does make them more likely to become damaged due to cold weather. They are not common in the colder, northern reaches, but may be a good choice in the southern regions.

Dry Barrel Hydrants

With dry barrel hydrants, the main valve exists in the hydrant’s base. The water line is all underground—below the frost line. With this style of hydrant, no water stays within the system after use. Because of this, there is much less risk of freezing and damage to the hydrant due to frost.

There are three types of dry barrel hydrants—a slide-gate, toggle and compression style hydrant. Each works differently, but all keep the water underground. The different variations can help individual municipalities find the right hydrant to meet their needs.

The Colors


Each of the nozzle cap colors indicates a different flow available. This could vary slightly from one area to another, but in general, blue indicates a heavier flow while red means a slower flow—with other colors falling in the middle. Usually, a densely populated area will need a heavier flow than a rural or sparsely populated area will require.

Body color is often a matter of choice. The idea is that the color of the hydrant should be recognizable from a distance, so that firefighters and community helpers can find the hydrant when they need them most. Yellow or red is often the color of choice. However, violet is often used when water comes from an untreated lake or pond—since violet is the international color for non-potable water.


While different from hydrants, standpipes are another valuable tool for firefighting. They are a fixed interior pipe that serve as an alternative to automatic sprinkler systems. These allow firefighters to distribute water to a section of the building, or even allow people who cannot exit the building a way to suppress the fire on their own. They can be an essential tool for firefighting—especially in larger buildings.

Making the Choice

The key to choosing the right fire hydrant is to think about the long term. Working with a high-end hydrant manufacturer can help you feel more confident in your choice. Make sure you look over all options and find a solution that will serve you well for years to come. 

Photo credit: KWDesigns / Source / CC BY-ND

Photo credit: david.nikonvscanon / Foter / CC BY

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