Fire Hydrant Color Code

Are fire hydrants always red? In picture books, fire hydrants are usually red, but in real life, they can be all kinds of colors.

What do the Colors Mean?

It's hard to know for sure. Firefighters in different places use colors differently. Sometimes the colors might not mean anything.

But when firefighters come to a fire, they need to know something fast: how much water will come out of this hydrant?

Not all hydrants give the same amount of water. For instance, a hydrant might be old, with a smaller pipe which can't deliver as much water as newer hydrants.

So, firefighters often paint the top cap of a hydrant with a color that tells them the water flow. They want to know right away how many gallons of water will come out of this hydrant per minute.

Colors of the Top Cap

In the United States, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends these colors. (The abbreviation gpm means gallons per minute.)

ClassColor Water Flow
AA Light blue1500gpm or more
A Green 1000–1499gpm
B Orange 500–999gpm
C Red Less than 500gpm
NFPA 291, 2007 edition, 291-13

So a hydrant with a light blue cap gives the most water, and a hydrant with a red cap gives the least water.

But the firefighters in your area might not use this code. In Akron, Ohio, they use a white cap for class AA hydrants instead of light blue. If you look again at the fire hydrants pictured above, you see that at least one can't be following this code!

Colors of the Body

What about the color of the rest of the hydrant? The NFPA recommends chrome yellow for the body of all new public hydrants. But other colors are okay too, such as white, silver, and of course, red, The important thing is to make hydrants bright and easy to see.

Sometimes the color of the hydrant body will tell you about kind of water. Some hydrants are connected to a private water supply, such as a lake, instead of the city water. The NFPA recommends that red be used for hydrants connected to a private supply.

Have you ever seen a violet hydrant? This probably means the water is non-potable: unsafe to drink. But you might not want to try to use a fire hydrant as a water fountain anyway.

Next time you see a hydrant, see if the color might mean something. Remember, the firefightetrs near you may have their own special code. You can always ask them to find out for sure.