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Cold Weather Firefighting

Cold Weather Firefighting

With cold temperatures comes increased danger when fighting fires. From Firehouse.com:

With winter conditions soon approaching, the fire service is left to contend with additional demands due to heavy snowfall and extreme temperature conditions. The hazards and complications of winter firefighting can be overcome by firefighters developing a basic understanding of those hazards and conditions and properly preparing for them beforehand.

Some of the things firefighters must pay special attention to:

  • Extreme road conditions
  • Operating “dry” vs. “wet” pumps
  • Coating equipment with antifreeze
  • Increased stopping distances
  • Decreased visibility
  • Slips and falls
  • Increased threat of frostbite, especially on the hands, feet, ears, and face.

On the scene

  • Positioning – ie. Blocked by snow banks?
  • Ice on stairs?
  • Are fire hydrants accessible?
  • Freeing frozen hydrant caps – Use propane torches to unfreeze
  • What about frozen water from the hose?
    • “Once committed and flowing water, engine companies will need to keep water moving in some manner to keep hoselines, ladder pipes, valves and pumps from freezing solid. Static water will freeze readily as we already know at 32 degrees Fahrenheit but if enough movement is provided, water will not freeze spontaneously until the ambient temperature reaches -40 degrees Fahrenheit.” – Firehouse.com

Water as we are aware exists in the states of a solid (ice), liquid, and a gas (steam). The major factor that differentiates these three states is the motion of the molecules that comprise water. When heat (as in the form of friction caused by movement) is added, its molecules will move faster and freely interact. As water freezes, the movement of molecules slow down and begin to align in a crystal like structure resulting in ice. As water freezes, its density (or mass per unit volume) will also increase until it reaches a solid crystallized state. If water is constricted as in a hoseline or piping when this expansion of mass takes place, the pressure exerted can cause costly damage. For this reason, keep nozzles, deck guns, ladder pipes etc. partially open with water flowing until ready to shut down and pack up. Hoselines and ladderpipes should be drained and picked up immediately when they stop flowing water and are no longer needed.

In addition, “Firefighters will only be able to battle the elements for short periods of time in extreme weather due to stress and shorter work cycles should be adhered to. Turnout gear does not allow for effective heat dissipation and sweating from performing fireground activity can lead to shivering and lowering of the body core temperature. Body core temperatures falling below accepted levels can cause severe injury to firefighters without them even realizing what is happening to them. Stress from the cold decreases cognitive reasoning as well as focus.”

Structural Concerns

  • As water is applied to a burning structure it will freeze and not run off. As more and more water is applied, ice will cause additional weight and stress on structural members increasing collapse potential.
  • Locks and halyards on ladders can become frozen making them inoperable or difficult to move.
  • Aerial ladders can become caked with ice increasing weight loads on them resulting in failure or twisting of the ladder.