While not yet, perhaps someday the Watch Hill Fire Department’s unique and colorful collection of fire hydrants will be in the Guinness Book of World Records.
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It is easy to whiz by the Watch Hill Fire Department without really seeing it. Perhaps passersby might just notice the brick firehouse or one of their fire trucks parked on the property. But if drivers slow down just a bit and look closer they will see an interesting sight: a plethora of different colored fire hydrants dotting the property.
The fire department’s crew welcomes people to stop by to check out their one of a kind collection of fire hydrants which takes up space inside the firehouse as well as outside and around back. It is truly a unique sight to behold even if you are not into fire hydrants.
According to Fire Chief Bob Peacock, the collection started about seven years ago. A senior gentleman had acquired a collection of firefighting items and was selling them. The Watch Hill Fire Department personnel were already collecting fire extinguishers, so they went to see what he had to offer. While they were with this gentleman they noticed an old rusty fire hydrant that was laying in the man’s yard.
Upon closer inspection, they found seven fire hydrants scattered about the yard and some hidden under leaves. Long story short, the department purchased the old hydrants, had them refurbished and enjoyed having them around the firehouse.
In time, their collection grew by four more hydrants from a salvage yard. This new fire department hobby continues to this day, and old hydrants have been mined from various sources, fixed up, and brought home to the Fire Department.
“We have even had summer residents pull up in their very expensive cars and excitedly open their trunks to drop off and donate a hydrant that they had found or bought throughout the country in their hometowns over the winter,” Bob said.
That initial small batch of fire hydrants has now grown to 226 fire hydrants and their current goal is to grow it up to 300 hydrants and then stop, although their initial goal was 100 hydrants and they have already far surpassed that. Time will tell if they decide to eventually aim for more than 300!
As far as general fire hydrant curiosity is concerned, readers might be interested to learn that the Westerly Water Department has the responsibility of maintaining a total of 901 hydrants in the Westerly- Pawcatuck area.
In 1801, the first hydrant was designed by Frederick Graff Sr, the chief engineer of Philadelphia Water Works. It wasn’t until 1865 that cast-iron fire hydrants were made large scale and used across the country.
Another very interesting tidbit is that fire hydrants come in all sorts of colors. Sometimes the shapes are a little different too. There are reasons for some of the color choices. For instance, red is a common color for a hydrant that is supplied with water through a public system. It is recommended that hydrants be painted violet if it provides water that is not safe to drink.
If the hydrant will not be used for a long time, it should be painted black. All that said, sometimes these recommended guidelines are not followed, and different departments choose to do things differently – almost half of the departments in the country do not follow these guidelines. Sometimes a town may choose colors related to school colors or to make them look different than those in other towns.
The colors of the collected and out of service hydrants at the Watch Hill Fire Department have been painted a variety of colors. There is one hydrant on the property that is painted pink at the request of their fire captain, and another one is painted white with black spots to resemble the traditionally known fire dog, the Dalmatian. To see this very interesting collection and talk to the firefighters, stop by the Fire Department at 222 Watch Hill Rd in Westerly and have a look around.