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Here’s Why the FDNY Has to Bust Your Car Windows If You Block a Hydrant

"A bend in the hose will decrease the pressure, and if you have to go up five or six floors, you need all the pressure you can get."

10:13 AM EDT on July 10, 2023

Smoke pours out of a building's window, as a firefighter watches from a nearby ledge.

(National Institute of Standards and Technology / Wikimedia Commons)

While fighting a fire on 162nd Street in Washington Heights at the end of June, members of the New York City Fire Department broke the windows of an Acura and ran their hose through the car. The smashing was documented in a viral tweet. "You gotta do what you gotta do to get water," the tweet insisted.

As a lay person, I couldn't shake this question: Did they really need to do that?

Here's the thing: I'm down for busting the windows. I'm not an apologist for people who park in front of hydrants (which, the FDNY's press office reminded me, is illegal). I would be into smashing the windows even if it weren't illegal! But seeing commenters act like it was so obvious why the hose couldn't just go over or under the car was making me question the very underpinnings of our shared reality, so I took the step of calling up the FDNY myself. 

"We don't like to do that. It's a last resort, we don't encourage it," FDNY spokesperson Jim Long told Hell Gate, referring to busting up an illegally parked car's windows. "But our firefighters are responding quickly and making quick decisions. The effort is to provide assistance as quickly as possible."

Bob O'Brien, a retired FDNY firefighter, concurred. "That's a four-inch pressure hose. It probably wouldn't fit under the car, and if it did, when it inflates, the car could puncture it. The only way to do it is to go through the windows. It's the only way to get water in an expedient manner."

Wouldn't the shards of the broken windows puncture the hose? No, according to O'Brien. "Those hoses are very, very tough. It would take a lot to puncture the hose, but inflated, the weight of the car could do it, or impede the flow of the hose." 

Water pressure is also the reason you can't go around the car either, O'Brien told us. "A bend in the hose will decrease the pressure, and if you have to go up five or six floors, you need all the pressure you can get." (The fire last Wednesday was on the sixth floor of the building.) 

"The hoses are limp when you first get them, so when you supply water to them, they may get stuck under something," Long added. "So that's going to prevent pressure from being sustainable and usable to fight the fire. We generally don't like to string hose under or near vehicles because there's just so much room for error."

O'Brien says that firefighters in life-threatening situations rely primarily on "muscle memory" from training. "You have three, maybe four minutes to get water on that fire," O'Brien said. In that situation, people have minutes to live. "We don't have the leisurely time to figure out another way to run a hose because an inconsiderate guy was blocking a hydrant. If somebody was thoughtless enough to park beside a hydrant, well, I guess they've gotta go replace a couple of windows. It's on you, it's totally on you."

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