Didn’t get that dog you wanted for the holidays? Now, Northampton residents can instead adopt, name, and care for something their neighbors might truly appreciate – a fire hydrant.
When local Boy Scout and Northampton High School sophomore Jesse Evers started thinking about his Eagle Scout project, he didn’t immediately think of fire hydrant adoption. He knew he wanted to do something with computer programming but wasn’t sure where to start. Then a neighbor’s house burnt down – it was struck by lightning, and there was no nearby fire hydrant to put the blaze out quickly.
“[The firemen] had to drag these massive hoses to a nearby lake and suck the water up that way, which obviously took a lot longer than just plugging into a hydrant,” said Evers. “I guess it was then that I started to really think about how important it is to have easy access to fire hydrants.”
Evers discovered Code for America, an open-source coding organization that sponsors applications that create programs to help government services become “simple, efficient, and easy to use.” From here he found the Adopt-A-Hydrant program, which was first launched in Boston by Code for America in 2012.
The site allows locals to register online and “adopt” a nearby fire hydrant in their name. Once registered, the individual is responsible for clearing the hydrant out during heavy snow, making it easier for firemen to reach in the event of an emergency.
“We’ve been trying to clean up our back alley for a while, and [keeping the fire hydrant clear] seemed like it’s important” said Tiffany Matrone, owner of Bang! Bang! Body Arts on Armory Street. Bang! Bang! is one of several companies around town that have adopted a hydrant; their eponymous adoptee, the hydrant “Bang! Bang!,” found its home after Matrone discovered the program through a friend’s Facebook page and thought it would be a helpful to the community to register.
“We kind of did this in memory of a friend of ours who was a firefighter… it’s close by, and important for our own safety and the safety of our community,” added Matrone.
Code for America gave Evers the groundwork for the site, while he collected data from town officials about hydrant placement throughout Northampton. After inputting this data, he added minor modifications to help it better display the layout of town. With the approval of the Eagle Scouts, Evers launched the site in early December.
In order to increase the visibility of the project, Evers printed and distributed over 1000 flyers through the Northampton area. It was in these areas, including downtown Florence , North Street, and the South Street section of Route 10, that the publicity was most effective; neighbors and businesses have adopted clusters of nearby hydrants in these areas after the flyers were distributed.
"We have this really ancient fire hydrant outside - it looks like a grandfather," said Jane Fleishman who, along with her partner Joan Tabachnick, adopted what has come to be affectionately known as "Brian," the hydrant nearest their house.
It was their daughter Rosie who came up with the name one night at dinner, and has stuck ever since. Fleishman, who had already shoveled the hydrant out regularly during the 15 years they had lived on Monroe Street, said her family was especially attracted to the project for the sense of community it helped build.
"The firefighters need to do their job, and if this makes it easier than all the better," she added.
Since the project’s inception, over sixty people in the Northampton area have signed up to care for a hydrant in Paradise City, which Evers describes as a “success.”
Several of the participants have chosen to remain anonymous, or register themselves under a first name or an alias. All registrants are also encouraged to name their hydrants - some name the hydrant after their street, a loved one, or themselves; others are more whimsical, including the hydrant “Batman”, adopted by “Batman,” on Norfolk Ave. in Florence. Others, like “You Can’t Fire Me I Fire Myself” and “Sparkey,” take full advantage of this freedom to add a personal touch to an adopted hydrant.
“You know, I have lived on this street for ten years and I have never had a relationship with my fire hydrant before,” said Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, a Northampton resident and Missioner for Creation Care with the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts. Bullitt-Jonas discovered the Adopt-A-Hydrant program through her neighborhood’s email chain and adopted her hydrant, “Hannah,” in early January.
Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, the town of Northampton, and the Northampton Fire Department have all also helped publicize the program online, as well as local media outlets who have reported on the program.
Evers has maintained contact with those who have adopted hydrants through the occasional email. The night before the (predicted) blizzard on Jan. 27, he sent out emails to each adopter urging them to remember their own hydrants, soon to be buried by snowfall and by plows. The reminder came with encouragement to spread the word about the program – with a positive response. That night, six more hydrants were adopted.
“I think some of the people who have signed up were people who already took the time to shovel out their hydrants,” said Evers. “There was really no reason for them not to sign up for something they already do, and they can choose to ‘abandon’ the hydrant at any time.”
“Especially people who signed up as an activity to do with their kids,” he added. “If the kids get bored and nobody is really clearing the hydrant, the family can just drop the responsibility with no pressure, and it doesn’t cost anyone anything.”
“The honest truth is I’ve been shoveling this fire hydrant for a while anyway, but it’s just fun to formalize the relationship and to actually have a chance to adopt it and give it a name,” said Bullitt-Jonas. “That captured my imagination.”
Evers has adopted a hydrant of his own and, as promised, took to the sidewalk once the plows made their passes to dig it out after the February 2nd storm. The Adopt-A-Hydrant program will continue as an ongoing initiative even after Evers’s Eagle Scout project has been completed.
Any interested parties can adopt a fire hydrant here.