December brings the
most wonderful time of the year. Children look forward to the joys of Christmas
and time off from school. Many religions celebrate the greatest event of
their existence. In many parts of North America weather becomes a carnival
of glistening snow and beautiful scenes. But for the fire departments of
those areas life is often very cruel, extremely demanding, and physically
exhausting. From December until April many firefighters will be called
upon to perform their duty in conditions that are less than enjoyable.
Each and every one
of us knows the benefits and advantages of proper diet, regular exercise,
and practicing healthy habits. We know that alcohol, tobacco, overeating,
and lack of exercise are all part of a long term bad body. Regardless of
our fire department affiliation, the emergencies we respond to do not take
pity on us. Working structure fires, motor vehicle accidents, automatic
alarm responses, and rescue assignments along with EMS assists or responses
keep coming each and every day.
job as fire fighters is never an easy one. Cold, wet, windy conditions
just add to the concerns of our personnel. Healthy emergency responders
tend to give the public we serve a better chance when they are in their
time of need. They also give themselves a better chance of safe operations
and a return to quarters without accident. Persons in command, supervisory,
and/or management positions should encourage the troops to be prepared.
Leading by example is always the best policy.
Arriving at the fire
station for shift, or for a call as a volunteer is the first part of our
concern. Extra time should be allowed for our trip to work when the weather
is cold and roads are slippery. A vehicle that will not start can be frustrating.
Early departure may allow us to have someone jump-start our car or pick
us up on his or her way to work. Volunteers have the challenge of not knowing
when their next call may be. They should keep the vehicle well maintained
and ready for cold winter days and nights. Driving to the scene or station
should be done safely and at legal speeds. Sometimes it is difficult to
maintain a safe and legal speed when the adrenaline is flowing after a
dispatch. Seeing a column of smoke or hearing such words as “working fire”
or “with entrapment” always pushes us to go a little faster. Deep snow,
icy roads, and wind conditions make our response dangerous even at safe
speeds. Maintaining a cool head and a “light foot” is to everyone’s advantage.
Chief officers responding ahead of apparatus can advise of road conditions.
When the rigs depart
the station the same good measures are prudent. Although apparatus may
be equipped with automatic tire chains or traditional tire chains, traction
is not always good. The winter road is an unsafe highway. Even during non-emergency
operations our vehicles are still large, slow to stop, and subject to sliding.
Take the necessary precautions to arrive safely.
Functioning at the
emergency scene becomes very interesting during the cold periods of the
year. Fire fighters are subject to the same dangerous conditions they always
face at emergencies plus they have to deal with falling rain or snow, wind,
slippery conditions, and low visibility.
Structural fire incidents
present so many bad conditions because of the weather. Firefighters are
subject to frostbite, exhaustion, exposure, and body core temperature changes.
Dressing appropriately will help avoid these problems. We should be wearing
proper PPE for the incident. Wearing it correctly; that is utilizing items
like collars, earflaps, and hoods will help prevent cold weather exposure
injuries. Simple things like fastening the snaps or closing a zipper make
a great deal of difference.
is another way to keep the responders warm, dry and safe. Utilizing rehab
services and mobile shelters is a way to assist the fire fighters and other
emergency scene workers. Although most of us prefer a hot cup of coffee
or hot chocolate, other fluids such as water are usually better for us.
Slippery ladders, roofs, driveways, and sidewalks are reason to go slowly
and with caution. Drifting or deep snow and piles of shoveled snow make
our approach and operation tough. Blowing snow makes seeing where we are
going and what we are trying to do much harder. When we have knocked down
a fire or extinguished it, all too many times we begin undressing in an
attempt to cool down.
Caution must be taken
to be sure we do not cool down too quickly or colds, fevers, and pneumonia
may set in. When picking up after these calls, hose, ladders, and other
items may be frozen in ice, sometimes several inches thick. Caution should
be practiced when we attempt to remove these items from their position.
Even fire apparatus can be “stopped in it’s tracks” by snow and ice. Moving
these vehicles always calls for extra safety including a person to watch
behind us if we back up. Maintenance department personnel or wrecker operators
may be the safest and quickest way to free up stuck apparatus.
Incidents along the
highways such as motor vehicle accidents or vehicle fires warrant more
attention in winter weather. The same slippery surfaces we had to drive
on cause difficult walking. Visibility is difficult for not only us but
also all other drivers along the highway. Training all fire department
personnel in “highway scene safety” programs is a must. It aids us in all
weather conditions and is needed even more during these winter conditions.
Having the extra warning devices, detours, and trained people goes a long
way to assuring our safety along these roadways. Positioning of emergency
apparatus is critical. Improperly placed fire apparatus and private owned
vehicles of fire personnel that drive to the scene make any incident on
the road a dangerous one. Too many emergency responders have been injured
or killed by oncoming traffic. We need to do better with our preparation
and on-scene activities.
incidents can be made a little more tolerable with extra dry clothes at
the station or even on the apparatus or rehab vehicle. Carrying extra sweatshirts,
dry socks, and gloves can be very comforting and allow us to return to
duty with a warm, fresh start. With a fresh start comes added safety. By
simply changing from wet clothes to dry ones during rehab or a break, we
prevent sick days for career fire fighters, or prevent volunteer firefighters
from missing future calls.
Responses that are
not considered by some as challenging or breath-taking still mean additional
winter hazards. EMS assist calls and automatic alarm responses still require
us to drive on slippery roads and operate in wintry conditions. Becoming
complacent with these incidents invites disaster.
Returning to quarters
after a winter call is a welcome occasion. The chance to warm up, dry off,
and possibly change clothes helps insure our good health. Be careful not
to forget that equipment must be restored and serviced for the next call.
Many times we get too comfortable only to be unprepared when the next emergency
occurs. Apparatus and companies should be placed available only when they
are truly ready for response.
| During the
most severe conditions, hose may have been left in several inches of ice.
Replacement of this hose onto apparatus will take some time and effort.
Personal protective equipment may need to be dried or temporarily replaced
if possible with spare turn out gear. Just like any other time, during
or after any other call, a suspected injury including possible frostbite
should be reported to your supervisor immediately. Proper notation of time
and cause should be done per department policy.
Those of us that
are tasked with being chiefs, line officers, managers, or commanders have
the responsibility of making sure our people are safe. Taking the extra
time and effort to make sure this happens in the cold and blustery times
is one more thing we must do. Even those of us that may no longer be officers
or have never been but are veteran fire fighters must look out for our
younger less experienced people. They rely upon our years of experience
to help them. Although many fire departments experience jokes and horseplay
towards young fire fighters, these folks are the future of our organizations.
Taking good care of them and teaching them the safest and best ways to
operate during winter conditions insure our long-term survival. Encouraging
our fire fighters to do little things that make them feel good goes a long
way towards very positive attitudes. If officers take care of their people,
the people will take care of their officers.
All of us enjoy the
warm weather that springtime brings. Let’s be safe in all of our wintertime
activities, especially the emergency response ones.
About the author:
Pauly has spent nearly 34 years in the fire service. He is employed full-time
as a Fire Service Education Specialist at the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy,
teaching and coordinating the activities of the Resident and “Academy On
The Road” training programs. His main topic areas are structural fire fighting,
safety and survival, and fire fighter rescue. As a volunteer he spent 31
years in the Lewistown, PA Fire Department, the last 7 as Deputy Chief.
He is currently 1st Asst. Chief with the West Granville Fire Co. Pat is
nationally certified as a Fire Fighter III, Fire Instructor II, and Fire
Officer I, and was a PA Certified EMT for 26 years. He holds an Associates
degree in Computer Science Technology.