A Chicago firefighter's helmet is covered with ice from single digit temperatures during a five-alarm blaze in a warehouse on the city's South Side, Bridgeport neighborhood Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Chicago Firefighters Face Fire, Ice at Five-Alarm Blaze
Firefighters in Chicago are still battling a massive warehouse fire on the city's South Side that officials say is one of the largest fires in recent years. Read more

FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation contributor Peter Kurtzie of Buffalo offers tips about frigid conditions. "Out in the Cold" has a lot of useful advice. What would yours be?

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Always keep the water moving, even if not in use, keep the bale of the nozzle cracked open so the water will not freeze, keep the pump circulating and have the portable heaters ready to thaw out couplers afterwords.

Keep a bunch of the hand warmer pouches available for your members, and train them to put them inside your gloves and boots while donning gear in the winter, they last for 12 hours and will not burn you and you will be happy you did it.

Keep limbs moving while not working, dont let your guard down and keep your hood on to avoid wind burn and frost bite, especially if you are working master streams at large jobs and the water mist is covering you.

Send FF's in groups on a rotation to enter the EMS rig and warm up while getting their vitals taken, or the back of the rescue as well to warm up and get dry gloves/hoods from your back-up stock.

Being in Upstate NY I have worked numerous jobs in the winter, with sub-zero wind chills (and temps) and have been well versed in cold weather ops.  We keep an ice auger on each of two trucks; our engine and our engine/tanker so they can access ponds and streams that have frozen over, we also have a small chain saw they can use to cut a square access hole for our suction hose.  We train often on ice rescue as well, and hypothermia calls with our EMS.

I carry a small duffle bag on the rig with me that has a spare hood, 2 spare pairs of firefighting gloves, spare socks, and a pair of leather chopper mitts with wool liners.  Wet and cold simply sucks and saps all of your energy.  I use the chopper mitts for either long term exterior ops, or for pick up at the end of the fire.  No they don't mean NFPA but I am not inside where the fire is when using them anyways.

I have to say as far as going inside to warm up I won't do it.  The one time I did I was covered with ice, I went inside a rig to warm up and thaw out, as the ice melted I got wet and when I went back out to work i was instantly so cold I was unable to continue working on the fireground.   I will keep a layer of ice on me versus being soaked anytime.

Extra gloves and a hood is what i carry.  I will start taking extra socks as well.  We have been testing out some slip on studs for our bunker boots and they seem to be working well.  I was sliding around at a structure fire last week and was thinking how bad it would be to fall on the ax I was packing around.  We have been talking about keeping a bucket of salt on the engine for the engineer to apply when needed.  One Duh moment i had was three weeks ago when I mentioned to my captain that my feet were always cold on the fireground in winter.  He asked me if my boots were too small and I said that they were a full size too small.  The Chief ordered me a size 12 and now my feet are always toasty warm!  Propper fitting boots are a must!   

Remove the coat and hang it on handrails before getting in Ambulance or rescue, thats happened to me as well but my main concern for the firefighters is hypothermia as well.  If they stay in the elements for too long they will get it, I have seen it here.  After they go through two air bottles and have given me a great effort I tell them to take a knock, and send them to get out of their gear, get warm, replace wet gloves and hoods, get some hot coffee or tea or just get some water and hydrate, get checked by EMS and after 20 minutes they can return to assist with pick-up.  If they are mutual aid guys and they go through two bottles and the incident is under control then they should go back to our station for a warm meal and to warm up and get dry before heading back to their station, but we have trouble with our auxilliary company lately not showing up...

Each member needs to have their own spare equipment (hood, gloves, mittens, sweatshirt, etc) that they carry on the apparatus in extreme weather but there also needs to be a proactive approach by the department leaders....   insure that all members have 2 complete sets of turnout gear - complete sets including boots and helmet.   Rotation of crews in weather extremes is also a signficant key to keeping personnel safe and increase survivability.  Providing supplies for maintaining energy is also a huge key - food and drinks to keep memebrs fueled is extremely important in cold weather - possibly even moe so than in heat extremes.

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