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Sprinklers help children play it safe with hydrants


Six-year-old Tyeisha Royster cooled off in West Baltimore Saturday without worrying about hurting herself -- or the city's water pressure.

With about 15 other children on the corner of West Fayette and North Bentalou streets, she enjoyed blasts of water from a sprinkler that was connected to an open fire hydrant. Her technique: to lie on her stomach, one knee bent, on the double yellow line in the middle of West Fayette Street, while the water streamed down on her.

"I like the sprinkler because it's much easier on the hospital," she said, referring to nearby Bon Secours Hospital, where water pressure dropped in June from nearby hydrant use. "I like to get my whole self wet."

The sprinkler attachment -- courtesy of the city -- also makes playing safer, said 11-year-old William Cox. William added that without one, water "was coming out all hard -- with the sprinkler, it's more better because it's not a lot of force. You don't get hurt."

The Mayor's Sprinkler Party Program, launched in May, is offering 300 free sprinklers and hydrant wrenches this summer, providing a compromise between a city concerned with public safety and children concerned with public playing.

During a heat wave last month, some city hospitals and high-rise buildings experienced low water pressure because so many neighborhood hydrants had been opened. Meanwhile, basements flooded and wet streets made driving difficult. And children risked being pushed into traffic by blasts of hydrant water, said Department of Public Works spokeswoman Vanessa C. Pyatt.

The city sent workers to close the hydrants. But sweltering children and adults sometimes reopened them soon after workers closed them.

With the sprinkler program, however, the city's and the children's needs can be met -- but with a few rules.

To obtain a sprinkler, an adult must take a class in sprinkler

safety. Then the block is canvassed to make sure traffic patterns won't be badly interrupted while the street is blocked and the sprinkler is on -- a process that can take five days.

The city can then issue a permit for use between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., as well as a sprinkler, a wrench and blockades, Ms. Pyatt said.

So far, about 150 people have taken the hour-long course and approximately 80 sprinklers have been handed out, she said.

Marion Waddell, 75, of North Bentalou Street, has one.

"I'm still interested in kids, in particular our kids. They don't see enough people doing constructive things, and I'd like for them to see someone out there doing things for the betterment of the neighborhood," the great-grandfather said.

At the sprinkler safety class that Mr. Waddell attended last month, Department of Public Works administrative officer Peter Pakas wore a "Save Our Water" T-shirt with his suit. The attendees -- four men, seven women and four children -- watched a video on water use, safety and filtration, and another on how to attach a sprinkler to a fire hydrant.

After a question-and-answer period, they went outside to watch a demonstrator attach the foot-long, elbow-shaped sprinkler vertically to a hydrant nozzle. It sprayed water in a wide arc, reaching the full width of the street.

More kids can get wet with this than with the [hydrant alone]," said Mr. Pakas. "We've got a real honest-to-goodness recreation here."

Mr. Waddell had his sprinkler going within three days, and since then, 50 or more people use it a day, he said. "All the kids don't have to worry about traffic. They can just play."

That's what Maurice Brown, 9, was doing with a pair of yellow an black goggles and a pink bucket. He pronounced the sprinkler superior to the unfettered hydrant. "It sprays more out -- it goes more farther."

But it's not just children who are playing. Grandmother Gwendolyn Carter, who was drenched by mid-afternoon Saturday, called the sprinkler spray "really refreshing."

To get a sprinkler, Baltimore residents can call 396-6415 on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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