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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Here's a cold-weather tip from the old-timers: When you get ready in the morning, before you put on your socks, coat your feet with a layer of vaseline. It will help keep your feet warm on the coldest and wettest of days!

I never heard of that. Have to give it a try.

using a spray deodorant will work too on your feet....
Not sure elsewhere but all our rigs have on-spots (permanent onboard chains driven by the revolution of the rear wheels). Over 6 inches (SOP) we put chains on.

Let's not forget appropriate rehab on scene. There should be a vehicle on scene that is heated and gets FF's out of the weather. Also ample water, energy drinks and snacks should be available (we have a rehab vehicle for this purpose).

Also prevalent in winter is an increased risk of dehydration. Unlike summer where we tend to notice our thirst, in winter we tend not to. The body loses a lot of moisture in dry cold air through exhalation and diuresis is increased, further reducing hydration. With multiple runs throughout the day/shift in cold weather, a firefighter can easily become dehydrated. Then throw him (or her) into a working fire, already significantly dehydrated and you have a very potential mayday and LODD. Symptoms of dehydration can be mistaken for symptoms of hypothermia and vice versa.
Good post John. Here on the Southern Oregon coast we see high wind storms this time of year. Positioning of apparatus and tying stuff down is paramount to safety. We dont see the ice and snow. Cold for us is about 38. Be Safe-ish out there.
I don't know if spray deodorant on feet will keep them warm but...I'm sure with shoes off anyone in the area will appreciate it.
You do have to open the drains once back on station otherwise the pump could still freeze up on the way to the next call, especially if you have circulated the pump.
Actually its spray anti-persprent and it helps keep your feet a little more dry when they sweat like mine do
Our rescue has the chains like that. Flip a switch in the cab and they drop down and spin under the rear tires. New engine was supposed to have them but somewhere it got screwed up and ended up without them.
So rare that we do not own winter coats or gloves. Snow chains and studded tires are something we only hear about others needing. LOL
In Montana we see our fair share of cold weather just last week we had -35 to -40 wind chill. I always keep a ski cap and an extra flash hood on me, I keep them stored in my helmet. Wool socks don't hurt either.
Hey John,

I really works! But it does take a little getting used to at first!!

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