Behold the lowly standpipe. Is its purpose to merely offer a de facto bench to sit and watch the world go by? On a private tour of New York City, we’ll learn about their usefulness.
We’ll see some that are welcomingly burnished street furniture and others that won’t let you tie your damn shoe. We can take an impromptu coffee break away from the sidewalk hubbub, read a map, or peruse an app.
What purpose do they serve, and why are they necessary? They are very important and perform a serious function. In case of fire, it is not practical for the Fire Department to run hoses from the street to the upper floors of a skyscraper. The tragedy at the Deutsche Bank building in lower Manhattan was caused by the pipes being disconnected. With a standpipe system, water is fed from the street into vertical risers inside the hallways where fire-fighting hoses are attached to outlets on each floor. They were revolutionary because they allowed firefighters to combat a fire from inside a building instead of out. Every commercial building in NYC over 75 feet tall must have a standpipe system, and they are rigorously tested and maintained.
According to Wikipedia, The concept of fire plugs dates to at least the 17th century. Firefighters responding to a call would digdown to the wooden water mains and hastily bore a hole to secure water to fight fires. The water would fill the hole creating a temporary well, and be transported from the well to the fire by bucket brigades or, later, by hand-pumped fire engines. The holes were then plugged with stoppers, normally redwood, which over time came to be known as fire plugs.
Needless to say, people watching is one of the great pleasures of living in Gotham. Sitting on a fireplug and watching the world go by on a nice day is a delight. The fixtures are at a perfect height for a relaxing pause on a leisurely walk or a spot to enjoy a cup of joe. They also seem to be a source of pride for the maintenance staff of the buildings, where they are often polished to brilliant shines.
On the other extreme is the standpipe with the anti-personnel spikes, I’m not sure what the story is with those, I can’t imagine that if a fire broke out in the building that anyone sitting on one would refuse to get off it so the FDNY could hook up their hoses. Maybe the building management just doesn’t want idlers marring the beauty of their sning brass stanchions.