<a href="mailto: dvsavini@cbs.com" target="_blank">Send Your Tips To Dave Savini</a>By Dave Savini

CHICAGO (CBS) – Criminals are targeting fire hydrants in order to make a fast buck.

Underneath the caps is a brass ring fire fighters use to connect their hoses. 2 Investigator Dave Savini found criminals are stealing these rings then selling them for scrap. Recyclers then melt it down for copper.

Stripped hydrants cannot be used during a fire. That has folks who live near the  hydrants worried.

Ken Brown has three children living in his North Side home that had a stripped hydrant.

“I feel that is ridiculous to do that,” Brown says about the thieves. “Put peoples lives in jeopardy just for a little piece of copper.”

Brown points down his street and asks: “If something happens, where’s the nearest fire hydrant?”

Without the ring, firefighters have to find alternate ways to connect their hoses or find other hydrants to use. A delay can be devastating, especially on streets where all of the hydrants had rings stolen.

Earlier this summer, hydrants near a massive New Jersey fire were stripped of the brass rings. The fire grew out of control, destroying buildings and leaving 20 people homeless.

In 2008, a California home was destroyed when firefighters struggled to get water because the nearby hydrants had been stripped of the brass rings.

The CBS 2 investigators uncovered brass theft all across Chicago, street after street, even outside Mozart Elementary School.

The rings weigh five pounds and can fetch anywhere from $10 to $15 dollars each when sold for scrap.

The thefts are bad enough, but residents want to know why it takes so long to fix the hydrants. CBS 2 found one hydrant that was left disabled for six weeks. Residents living near the hydrant were angry.

Alma Lazaro says police and fire responded to that stripped hydrant. However, she and city hall insiders say it was not fixed until CBS 2 called about the problem.

“And it [the hydrant] is actually the most important one because there’s four corners there,” said Lazaro.

Nathaniel Gonzalez lives on the same 2200 block of North Tripp.

“A lot of children around here,” Gonzalez said. “Quite a few children, and without that (hydrant) in operational conditions, we may pay the consequences.”

Aside from his hydrant, CBS 2 found hydrants across the area getting repaired by the Chicago Department of Water Management. Crews were sent out after the 2 Investigators contacted city officials.

Second Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti says the city needs to crack down on thefts and speed up repairs.

“We need to have the city personnel get out there and fix these hydrants,” he said. “We had hundreds of hydrants that had been stripped of the brass ring.”

He also wants severe penalties for scrap dealers who buy them.

“If it’s found on their premises, they should lose their license immediately,” Fioretti said.

A Chicago Water Department spokesman says there have been 78 thefts of hydrant port rings, just since July 1. There have been reports of as many as 2,500 hydrants being stripped in a year.

Water and fire department officials are concerned about the thefts but say each fire engine has a special device to connect to stripped hydrants. It takes about 90 seconds to install.

Anyone who sees hydrants being tampered is urged to call 9-1-1.

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