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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Hey jack,

Here in Georgia the protocol is slightly different. From 1-5", we use chains. At 6+ inches, we take our bread and milk and go home till it blows over!(At least the smart ones do...)
you got it and we all know wet feet are cold feet.....I have been doing that for the last 15 years when hunting.....Paul
or rehab we have an ambulance on scene for stand-by. ambulance is seperate from fire where i live.
Great post. I am going to print this and take it to our next training meeting. thanks for the refresher.
1" to 5" of snow... typical New England winter day! ; ^ )
Hell, here in NY we don't even put a coat on till it gets below zero degrees....10 inches of snow we put snow tires on (maybe) or engage 4 wheel drive...We fish through the ice all winter....bitch trolling though......LOL
well did as i said i would and everyone seemed attentive. had a good discussion on the topic. thanks for the post.
Good to know, but I really don't have to worry about the cold weather. It gets cold here its been in the 50's (burrr) gotta love Iraq lol
well I guess it's good you don't have to worry about the cold. But stay safe over there & Merry Christmas.

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