Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cold Weather Firefighting Ain’t for Sissies

Here in Colorado, we spent nearly a week in arctic temperatures - below zero, single digits, temps in the low teens on a good day. As brutal as it has been for the general population, these kinds of conditions are even more challenging for firefighters.

The folks behind the Irons and Ladders LLC Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/IRONSandLADDERS) posted about the difficulties faced at working fires in Colorado Springs during this frigid weather. Some of their followers also chimed in with their own experiences. Here’s a summary to give you some insight about what firefighters face during extreme cold.

Ice. Fighting fires means pumping water, and that water freezes on everything – the street, where fire engine pumps and hose connections often leak, and water from the scene drains to; all equipment exposed to water or water spray; and the firefighters themselves.

Chicago firefighter, January 2013.
Photo from www.dailyoftheday.com
Freezing hose lines. See above. Sometimes hose freezes solid to street surfaces. Commercial deicer is one method used to free them. Of course, the next challenge is getting frozen sections of fire hose back to the station or some other facility so they can thaw. Hose generally comes in 50-foot long sections, and when frozen solid that hose is no different than steel pipe. No flexibility means you can’t just toss it in the back of a pickup or utility truck. My dad once described loading frozen hose onto a flatbed 18-wheeler for transport.

SCBA malfunctions. In extreme cold, air regulators will freeze, as will exhalation valves on the mask itself. The I & L guys say it’s similar to breathing into a straw that’s plugged.

Difficulty keeping chainsaws running. Chainsaws are primarily used during ventilation efforts, but it’s hard to cut a hole in a roof when the bar oil solidifies.

Extension ladders frozen in place. In other words, what went up is not coming down…

Apparatus frozen in place. If there’s water on the street and it’s cold enough, vehicle tires can freeze to the asphalt. Sometimes it’s just a light freeze, and the tires will break loose under power with no damage done to the tire or the vehicle. More severe cases require more extreme efforts to get the apparatus back on the road.

And just think: There are places in this country and around the world where this kind of extreme firefighting is the norm, not the exception!

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