Does the fire service have to pay for water used to fight fires?

I don’t know why this question occurred to me. When the fire service hooks up to a hydrant and starts spraying thousands of gallons of water onto a burning building… do they get charged for that water?

I guess it probably varies by country - in the UK, for instance, water companies are private; in other countries they are state owned.

US, NC, rural volunteer fireman.

We don’t pay, and we have the power to commandeer private ponds and swimming pools as water sources. In actuality, unless you have a very small pond and there’s a drought, you’ll never notice 30k to 100k gallons that we’d take. I personally haven’t pumped out of a pool yet, and we avoid them for matters of practicality (fencing and limited water).

Most people who have ponds that we’d use have agreed in writing to let us use them anyway. The in writing thing is a newish FEMA requirement that’s happened since 9/11, when they mandated standardized procedures for most everything we do in the interest of interoperability.

We also have a county water system. Using that water is an assumption on the part of the water depaertment as being a cost of doing business. More often, we use surface water because not many of our mains can provide the volume we require.

Thames Water supplies this locality.

Interesting. I see from the PDF on that page that it would cost me £102 for the first day, then £34 for subsequent days, to extract up to 20 cubic metres of water from a hydrant. Or a bargain £2641 a year. :slight_smile:

Indeed. Thames Water never fails to startle me with tales of its generosity.

In point of fact, if you require that much water from a hydrant on a daily basis (you probably don’t) you’d be better off shelling out £10K on a borehole. You’d break even after 4 years, with plenty of savings to follow.

Or, evidently, start my own fire service… :stuck_out_tongue:

In my political jurisdiction, water comes from the County Water Authority, and fires are put out by the Fire and Rescue Department, both part of the county system. The jurisdictions that buy water from the County do so by annual use analysis, not individual use charges. (Those jurisdictions vary in the manner of billing they use.)

I don’t know if bookkeeping of fire department use is based on cost or usual rates. But it is a matter of switching pockets, so it doesn’t matter much.


As a practical issue, how would they determine how much water had been used and therefore the charge, without a meter hooked up to the hydrant?

The meter is the key item in any contractual agreement.

If a contractor wishes to draw water from a hydrant, he applies for a licence to do so and is issued with a hydrant meter to measure the volume taken. The meter is read at agreed intervals and the contractor charged according to the price list.

In the Water District I work for it’s just a cost of doing business.

The amount of water used to put out a fire is nothing compared to the cost of trying to charge the Fire Department or property owner for the water used.

The amount of water used for firefighting is likely to be small when compared to the usual amount of water that is wasted by a water utility (or at least comparable to). Flushing of the lines to keep chlorine residuals up, etc. is just part of doing business. After all, even installing and maintaining fire hydrants is usually part of running a water utility.

edited to add: In my experience, water supplies to sprinkler systems are usually not metered. The cost of installing a meter and reading it (which would result in zero water consumed the vast majority of the time) would far exceed the value of the water used for a fire.

Just think for a minute what would happen if the firemen couldn’t pay or were behind in their payments. Now same scenario except that the building burning is the main offices of the Water Co.

AFAIK, no fire hydrants are metered.

I worked on a pilot water treatment project that drew water from a hydrant, and even though we weren’t paying for it, the water department supplied an external meter (went in-line with the hose) to keep track of how much we used.

The wells are metered, and all the customers are metered. If input <> output (+/-) , then they start looking for the leak.

In our case we were drawing a LOT of water compared to the rest of the system so it was pretty important to them to account for it. We could only operate in the wee-hours of the morning when the normal consumption was down.

The amount of water used in fighting fires is really an insignificant amount – there is probably more water lost in leaks from the 75 to 100 year old cast iron pipes under the streets.

Back when I looked after my local Fire Brigade, it was explained to me thus: no, the Fire Brigade doesn’t pay for the water it uses; you do, out of your water rates / bill. Essentially, there’s a small insurance surcharge. The water companies do try to operate at a profit, you know.

In Maine, each hydrant has a fixed annual charge set by the State Public Utility Commission. Most hydrants are paid for by village, Town or City governments. Some private complexes (large warehouses, large condo complexes, etc) have their own hydrants and pay the annual charge. The charge is designed to cover routine maintenance (each one needs to be pumped regularly to avoid freeze-ups, etc).

In Maine, the fire dept may draft water from any source anywhere.