I'm sure that everyone has noticed the change in the temperature lately. The winter season brings its own hazards and obstacles that the fire service has to deal with. Is your department prepared? What issues do we have to contend with during the cold weather?

First and foremost is hypothermia. We are going to be exposed to the elements and with the adrenalin running through our bodies we are susceptible to not noticing the ill effects until it is too late. As firefighters we need to be aware of the effects of cold on the body and how wind chill increases the transfer of heat away from the body. Add in to this the fact that we often work in wet conditions the effects can be greatly amplified on us. (The following is from a PowerPoint presentation available from IAFF.org – Cold Stress and the Firefighter).

• Hypothermia is a subnormal temperature within the internal body core.
• A person suffering from hypothermia will exhibit poor coordination, will often stumble, may slur speech, and suffer from mental dulling with impairment of judgment and ability to work.
• Once severe shivering occurs the victim may not be able to rewarm without an outside heat source.

Hypothermia depresses normal circulation and vital signs, thus measurement of heart rate, pulse and blood pressure may be difficult or impossible

• You have a true medical emergency when shivering has stopped.
• Protect the victim from further cold stress by removal to a warm place.
• Evaluate the patient with extreme care, since blood pressure and radial pulse may not be detectable due to decreased circulation in the extremities.
• All suspected hypothermia patients should be rewarmed at a hospital emergency department before death is assumed. A hypothermic patient is not pronounced dead until they are “warm and dead.”

For much more information please visit IAFF.org and view the PowerPoint presentation.

The best way for us to prevent these injuries is to wear proper PPE and have extra gloves and hoods available to switch out once ours gets wet. Also dressing in layers will help insulate the body and allow us to regulate our temperatures. Enough cannot be said about proper rehab either.

In addition to the effects of hypothermia on our own bodies, we had to deal with how it affects our equipment and apparatus. Having shovels and bags of sand on board can help out greatly if your rig gets stuck. Proper positioning of apparatus can help prevent the buildup of ice from water spray.

Driving needs to be adjusted based upon road and climate conditions. Those big red (or whatever color is the flavor of the day) rigs don’t stop on a dime in good weather, let alone on ice. Visibility can be obstructed by sleet or snow or by the glare of the sun off the snow.

Ice rescue equipment should be reviewed and practiced.

If your department runs EMS or operates as first responders treatment for cold emergencies should be refreshed. Especially with the economic conditions we may find more and more people living in homes that are not properly heated.
These are just a few topics off the top of my head.

Let’s add on to this discussion about other areas we need to consider and prepare for.


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Very good post full of information that we all should remember. But off the top of my head, I can't think of anything to add. Maybe keep a change of clothes in your vehicle ( I do). Because, like you said, we work in wet situations, and then add the sweating under the bunker gear. Nice to have dry clothes to put on in the cold of winter. Also, you never know when you'll get back-to-back calls. For example, an mva right after you've been playing in a fire for 2 hours. Could get chilly in wet clothes.
Watch out for accumulating ice on the ground as you work a defensive fire or even an offensive fire. Could end up on your backside. Fallowed by a medical visit.
How about operations to protect our second most important item (besides personnel)....Water...How do you keep your vehicles from freezing solid...? Do you stress to your people to keep the nozzles cracked open...?...If you are running a draft site (rural departments know what I mean) do you have someplace out of the way to spray water from your engine to keep lines open when you aren't pumping to a tanker or tender...? Do you have a means of getting to the water if the surface is frozen...? Have you tended and winterized your dry hydrants...? Stay safe........Paul
I always take a ski cap with me to keep my brain pan warm, especially good if my head/hood has gotten sweaty. I also carry a spare hood. For extrications or other outside work, a pair of latex gloves under the structural or extrication gloves keeps the hands nice and warm.

A person suffering from hypothermia will exhibit poor coordination, will often stumble, may slur speech, and suffer from mental dulling with impairment of judgment and ability to work. Well that explains one person I know, although it's a year-round issue.
I keep the two different size hand warmers that you can buy at wal-mart in the sporting goods department. There not only good for keeping you warm, but work well for a patient that has been out in the cold for a long period of time. They are cheap and come in handy, especially on them MVA's that take awhile.
very good. i know were i live in the texas panhandle we get cold but not as cold you people up north. i know you have to change the way you do stuff in the cold. it takes a little longer on responding the drive time is what i'm talking about. but you just have to deal with it.
All of our type 4 pumps have been pulled off the brush trucks, the tenders are in heated storage, the otter sled and power auger are now on our first tender due along with 1 extra length of hard suction, my snowshoes are now with the rest of my gear in my POV, hand warmers? check!, so no.....not ready because winter up here will throw you obstacles you never though of. ADAPT! Awesome info RE hypothermia.
Ok paul you caught my eye....how do you winterize a dry hydrant??

As for the trucks you got to keep them pumping, recycle, open nozzle(don't like this because it makes a skatin rink) keep that water moving. Am I ready...NO! , correction make that hell NO!!
Remember to keep water cirulating. Don't shut down the nozzels completely. Also make sure you open your drains to keep the water from freezing inside the pump. It's a bad thing when the pipes inside freeze and bust.

Sorry, just some other points of intrest for winter operations. Very good post Cap. We all needed that refresher course. Thank you.

Stay safe all (and warm)!!!!
You don't have to open the drains/relief valves, just circulate the pump.
If you have a ladder truck, and ice builds up during operations, don't try and knock it off with a tool, use a hoseline. And if you have to ascend or descend the ladder during icy conditions be very, very careful. Take your time, clip in and out with your truckie belt every few steps.
I also keep handwarmers handy, as well as a beenie(Winter cap), thick socks, and a few pairs of work gloves. And a complete change of clothes back at the station.
Minus 20 is not unheard of....sometimes even colder

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