As the boulevard angled into West 125th Street, Max saw a group of happy kids outside a bodega. They were jumping through the sideways stream of water gushing out of an open fire hydrant, trying to cool down.
“Hey, you kids!” shouted an angry old man on a stoop. He had a towel wrapped around his waist. “I’m trying to take a shower upstairs! You’re making the water pressure drop!”
The kids just laughed and splashed some more. “That does it! I’m calling the cops.”
The old man shook his fist and headed inside, no doubt to pick up a phone and punch in 911.
Max sprang into action. She had to. She couldn’t lie low or play it safe. Not when a bunch of kids were about to get into trouble for just being kids.
Fortunately, the open ﬁre hydrant was just up the block from the FDNY’s Engine 37/Ladder 40.
Even better, the firefighters in that house owed Max a favour.
About two months ago, right after she first moved to the Columbia dorm, she was able to help Engine 37 on a call to a burning building. They were having trouble assessing the situation on the upper floors because their brand- new drone—which carried both a high-def and an infrared camera—wouldn’t lift off. The drone’s cameras were supposed to let the chief at the street-level command post see where the firefighters were on the roof and what the fire was up to behind the walls
But the drone wouldn’t fly.
So Max gave him a quick flying-camera hack.
“Take the cameras off the drone,” she told the battalion chief. “Find a clear plastic garbage bag and a wire hanger to make a rig for the cameras. Grab a can of Sterno out of that grocery store, light it, secure it to the coat-hanger rig, and we can make a rudimentary hot air balloon to float your cameras up to the roof.”
The battalion chief, whose badge ID’d him as Morkal, stared at her.
Max held his gaze.
“You heard the girl,” Chief Morkal barked. “Make me a hot air balloon out of a garbage bag! Stat!”
“Just make sure it’s all clear, sir,” reminded Max. “Otherwise....”
“Right. All we’re gonna see is a black screen.”
The firefighters rigged up the mini-blimp and sent the two cameras up to do their job.
Now Max hoped she could ask these same firefighters to help the neighbourhood kids who, in their attempt to cool off, had broken the law by wrenching open a fire hydrant.
She burst into the firehouse and saw a familiar face. “Chief Morkal?”
“Oh, hey, Max. How’s it going?”
“Not bad, sir, but, well, I need your help.”
“You want to make a bigger balloon?” cracked Chief Morkal. “Maybe enter it in the Macy’s parade?”
“No, sir. I mean, that would be fun... but, right now, we have a fire hydrant situation.”
“Up the street. It needs a sprinkler cap.” “Not a problem.”
“Except it needs it right now. Otherwise, a bunch of kids could wind up in trouble. NYC municipal code says the penalty is thirty days in jail or a thousand-dollar fine.”
“They opened the hydrant?” Max nodded.
“Let me go grab some tools,” said the battalion chief. “You’re going to do it yourself?”
“Hey, I owe you, Max. Plus, it’s so hot, I might join the kids jumpin’ through the water!”
Max and the chief marched up the street with a spray cap—a clever device that turned the gush of water jetting out of a hydrant into a sprinkler. The nozzle would limit the amount of water exploding out of the open hydrant from one thousand gallons per minute to about twenty-five.
“Won’t sting so much, either,” Chief Morkal told the kids when the cap was safely installed and spraying out water in a cluster of gentle, arcing streams.
The kids were happy.
The old man who’d wanted to take a shower was happy, too. In fact, he came back outside in his swimsuit so he could jump through the gurgling water with his young neighbours.
The police were thrilled that the situation had “cooled down” before they arrived.
Max believed that for every problem there was a solution.
You just had to find it and then do the hard work to make it happen.