I am an acting state-certified paramedic, and I love my job.
Why Are Fire Hydrants Different Colors?
NFPA code 291 is designed so that any firefighter can go anywhere in the United States and know how much water he or she should expect out of a particular fire hydrant based on its color.
The Colors Are Guidelines, Not the Law
Unfortunately, this code is only a guideline and not the law. This means that the agency or service that maintains fire hydrants in each district is not required to paint them in this manner. In fact, it is estimated that only half of districts paint hydrants according to the code.
|Hydrant Class||Color||(GPM) Gallons per Minute|
1500 or more
Less than 500
Why We Need the Color Code
Fighting fire is a very hard and stressful task. The job comes with many obstacles that firemen must overcome to save and preserve property. One huge obstacle is— you guessed it—WATER!
You are probably thinking to yourself that water is everywhere and so are fire hydrants. Well, you would be correct, but getting water to the fire truck and on to the fire is honestly a struggle in many cases. Being out in a rural setting far from the water treatment plant poses an issue for water pressure and quantity. Many firemen have found themselves at a huge fire without enough water. How is one to know that the fire hydrant they're accessing cannot possibly support the huge quantity of water the firetruck requires?
NFPA Code 291
This grew to be such a problem that the National Fire Protection Agency, commonly known as the NFPA, set up NFPA code 291. This code gives guidelines pertaining to fire hydrants. The guidelines recommended are as follows (and shown in the table above):
- below 500GPM should be painted red
- 500–999 GPM should be painted orange
- 1000–1499 GPM should be painted green
- 1500 GPM or more should be painted blue
The guidelines primarily talk about the top of the hydrants and suggest painting the bottom of the hydrants yellow.
Many other markings have been known to be used in identifying certain characteristics of fire hydrants.
Painting the Body
Though the NFPA suggests that the body of the fire hydrant be painted chrome yellow, some departments use the body to identify ownership or uses of the hydrant. Here are some examples of other ways to paint the body:
- White to show the hydrant is a Public system hydrant
- Yellow for a Private hydrant connected to a public water system
- Red for a special operations hydrant, meaning it's for special purposes and situations only
- Violet to suggest that the water is non-potable
Painting the Caps
Some hydrants have the water caps painted different colors to distinguish the water's pressure.
- An example of this would be painting water caps green, which means the hydrant was previously tested at 120 psi or more. This means that whoever uses the hydrant should use caution due to the extreme pressure.
- Water caps can be painted orange, which suggests a pressure of 50–119 psi.
- When water pressure is below 50, water caps would be painted red. When firemen see a red-capped hydrant, they know that the water will not free flow and must be pumped.
What if There Aren't Any Hydrants?
If you do not have fire hydrants in your area, don't worry; the fire department can still get plenty of water in most cases. Most heavily populated areas have fire hydrants; however, smaller, less-populated communities may not have the luxury. Most of these places have wells rather than city water.
Using Natural Resources (and Pools)
Without fire hydrants readily available, fire departments are forced to look for more natural resources. Fire departments are able to find water in lakes and rivers, and they have even been known to empty a few swimming pools.
Getting water out of these sources is fairly easy, but it takes a good bit of valuable time. Obtaining water this way involves leaving the scene of the fire, driving to the water source, using a hard suction hose to suck the water out of the source until the tank is filled, and driving back to the fire scene before any water can be sprayed. With fire hydrants, it is as easy as hooking up a hose, sucking and spraying water at the same time, and never having to drive anywhere.
Using In-Ground Tanks
In areas that seem to lack fire hydrants and large bodies of water, fire departments use in-ground tanks spaced carefully throughout the fire district. These tanks are a few feet underground and are very large. These tanks hold thousands of gallons of water. Fire departments will keep these tanks full all of the time, use them when needed, and then refill them at the first available opportunity.
The Color Code Gives Firefighters Crucial Information
With water being of utmost importance when fighting a fire, it's crucial that fire personnel know exactly what to expect when opening up a fire hydrant. The National Fire Protection Agency has done an amazing job at providing a failproof solution towards common colors and flow rates. It is now up to the appropriate agencies to utilize these guidelines, leading everyone to a more common system.
What About in Your Area?
So now it is up to you wonderful guys and gals. I would love for you to comment below. Do you have fire hydrants in your area? If so, do the hydrants follow the NFPA 291 guidelines? If they are not painted according to the suggested guidelines, what do you feel needs to be done to accomplish this being put in to action? Do you feel that these guidelines make sense and would help your local firemen to be safer and more proficient at their jobs?
Also, do not hesitate to comment below if you feel you have a better idea as to what may work better or be more efficient. Technology is growing faster than ever, and it is important to use this technology and ideas to keep our servicemen and women safer at all costs.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
bobby on February 18, 2020:
Willow Mattox from Northern California on November 30, 2018:
Thank you for writing this. I always wondered why they were different colors and if there were any regulations about the colors they could be painted. Very interesting!
Renee Larsen on January 13, 2018:
This is helpful as I am constantly getting harassed by strangers outside my gym. There is an all yellow fire hydrant on the opposite side of the sidewalk furthest from the street and the curb is not painted. So I park there . And guess what, a stranger approaches me and tells me "You can't park there". I just keep walking as I am so tired of this. So just to be sure, am I ok on this parkung?
taish khan on November 20, 2017:
amazing. i didn't know about this. i am working as safety coordinator. thank u for this.
Toots on June 24, 2017:
We have a yellow one in our front yard, beside our mailbox.
I found this article very interesting.
firstname.lastname@example.org on June 01, 2017:
We have a yellow hydrant in front of HOA house where we park. Our realtor told us it was a water hydrant but we park in front of our house and have for 1.5years since we have bought the house. Yesterday we were ticketed $50 for parking less that 15 feet from the hydrant. We never thought one way or the other about parking there. One would have thought we would at least get a warning being in a private neighborhood? Also having parked there for 1.5 years. I read that yellow is privately owned using public water. Should we have a discussion with the police department in our town?
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on August 04, 2015:
I had never even thought about hydrant colors before I read this. Very interesting topic.
Justin Frye (author) on October 10, 2014:
So glad you all enjoyed it. Hydrant colors is something that most people just overlook and have no idea what they mean until someone points them out.
Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on October 09, 2014:
Very interesting and informative. I never knew this about the different colors of fire hydrants and what they mean. The fire hydrant in my cul de sac is completely painted red. Now I may know what it means. I will be on the lookout for more hydrants and note their color. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.
Marlene Bertrand from USA on October 09, 2014:
I think the color coding is an excellent idea. It's too bad it's just a guideline and not a law because there is no way to depend on the color of the fire hydrant, especially the ones that I've seen painted to look like animals or people. I learned something new by reading this and really enjoy it a lot.
Justin Frye (author) on October 09, 2014:
The Examiner-1 on October 09, 2014:
This is another one which was very interesting Justin. I voted "Yes" to the fire hydrants being up to standards, but I am just guessing. The hydrants here are all chrome except for the entire green caps. When the firemen use them, I have seen them hook up to the pumps and nothing else. So I guess that is okay.
I voted this up, shared and pinned it.