The first significantly new fire hydrant in more than a century could—and should—revolutionize the industry
- By Ronnie Rittenberry
- Aug 01, 2012
Of all the accoutrements of civilization—and
they are myriad, from plumbing to Pop-
Tarts—perhaps none is more routinely taken
for granted than the lowly fire hydrant. Like squat little
sentries standing curbside in all seasons, they dot
our neighborhoods and cityscapes almost as ubiquitously
as stop signs, yet, except by firefighters and
maybe dog walkers and their leashed lieges (who cannot
seem to help expressing their feelings on the subject),
hydrants mostly go unnoticed—until, of course,
When that happens and every second suddenly becomes
the difference between life and death, the fire
hydrant becomes the critical piece of equipment in the
firefighter’s arsenal. Water brought to the scene of an
emergency in a dump tank can make a huge difference,
but without a fully functional hydrant on hand,
firefighting can go only so far.
What even a quick Internet search of the phrase
“faulty fire hydrant” reveals is that, far too often,
firefighters arrive on the scene only to find malfunctioning
or “dead” hydrants and then, while lives and
property hang in the balance, they have to use precious
time either finding a plug that does work or another
alternative. It is a particularly stress-filled and
ultimately costly scenario that some in the industry
frustratedly refer to as “fire hydrant roulette.”
“It’s crucial when you pull up to a fire hydrant that
it works, that it’s reliable, and when it’s not, you just
go to the next one and the next and the next,” said former
New York City firefighter George Sigelakis. “The
public has a false sense of security regarding hydrants.
We don’t talk about it, but from my experience, the
chances are when you need a fire hydrant—when you
need it the most—it doesn’t work.”
After an injury prompted his retirement from active
duty in November 2000, Sigelakis set out to do
what had not been done in more than a century: design
and build a better fire hydrant. Working off ideas he
formed early on as a firefighter and picking up patents
along the way, he co-founded Sigelock Systems LLC
in 2009 and soon thereafter introduced the Sigelock
Spartan, which in May 2012 became the first—and, at
this writing, still only—hydrant to achieve Underwriters
Laboratories’ UL246B certification for a standard
titled “Tamper-Resistant Features of Hydrants for
Now, as Sigelock’s president and CEO, Sigelakis is
on a mission to spread the word about his invention,
which is designed not only to deter threats—both
from those trying to remove water illegally and those
trying to contaminate the water within—but also to
conserve public resources by not allowing the water to
leak out underground, which is an expensive problem
with existing hydrants.
Active Spartan installations are in the ground as
part of pilot programs in a smattering of cities, including
Long Beach, N.Y., and, in its second year,
Franklin, Pa., but Sigelakis has only just begun. His
goal is rightly lofty: to improve the safety and security
of cities everywhere. To do that, he has to get people
to stop taking these things for granted.
Consider the Clam
Firefighters are forced to take part in the roulette routine
for a number of reasons. Aged, weathered and
corroded hydrant parts resulting in dysfunctional operating
nuts, rusted caps and leaking seals are part of
it, but so is vandalism, including not only the theft
of water but of the hydrants’ brass and bronze parts.
Damages caused by vehicular impact and a lack of
maintenance in general are further exacerbations.
Maintenance of existing hydrants is a very necessary
part of the current hydrant industry, and although
it means big bucks for those who perform it,
the system remains inadequate.
One of the starting places for the Spartan’s design
was the use of non-corrosive, stainless steel materials
requiring little to no maintenance. But what sets
Sigelakis’s hydrant apart, even at first glance, are the
security features built in to prevent unauthorized use.
While they give the Spartan a space-age appearance,
Sigelakis said the concept’s inspiration came straight
from the earth.
“I grew up on a beach and was always fascinated
by how the clam protects itself, how it locks inside itself
so predators can’t pry it open,” he said. “So I devised
a cap that would lock over the operating nut and
also secure the outlets where the water comes out by
locking inside the mechanism. Eventually, I encapsulated
everything so there are no pry points—nothing
is sticking out or protruding, so people can’t get hurt,
but they also can’t attack the device.”
The resulting patented locking clamshell technology
the Spartan sports proved impervious to the
stringent attack tests that were part of its achieving
UL246B certification. On the other hand, with the
right opening mechanism, authorized personnel can
unlock the Spartan and gain access to water in less
than five seconds, which, according to Sigelakis, is
about 25 seconds faster than with existing hydrants
even under perfect conditions that rarely if ever exist.
Water the Odds?
The fire hydrant industry represents big business. No
one knows how many individual hydrants exist because
recordkeeping was spotty in the 1860s when the castiron
versions made their debut. Even when records
were kept, many were, ironically, lost in fires.
Sigelakis estimates there are at least 40 million hydrants
in the United States alone, and maybe twice
that. Whatever the number, it represents a lot of vested
interest in maintaining the status quo by those entrenched
in the industry.
Infrastructure improvements can move slowly, and
Sigelakis has no delusions regarding the difficulties of
revolutionizing the whole hydrant industry, but he is
nevertheless certain that change is needed, and he has
devoted himself to providing the means.
“Municipalities spend billions of dollars on firefighter
apparatus, high-tech equipment, manpower
and everything else, but the most important tool of all
to fight a fire is the fire hydrant, and it’s also the most
neglected,” he said. “What we have now with existing
hydrants doesn’t work—not well enough. Mine does,
and it’s needed. Its time has come.”
For more information about Sigelock Systems and
the Spartan, visit www.sigelock.com.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Security Today.