Freezing temperatures causing trouble for firefighters this winter

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Public Safety firefighters were dispatched early Wednesday morning to a structure fire on Washington Avenue. Sergeant Ken Skibbe said typically crews will travel 25 mph to get to the scene of a fire. However with all the snow and ice covering the roads, they traveled as slow as they needed to in order to arrive their safely.

“The first problem in cold weather is just getting there,” said Sgt. Skibbe during an interview at headquarters. “You’re maybe down to 5 mph, 10 mph just to safely get there.”

Fighting fire in the winter presents a number of obstacles he said. One of them being space to set up equipment. When the snowplows clear the streets the snow is pushed to the curbs where it piles up. Those snow piles leads bury the hydrants which causes another problem.

“Everybody knows where their hydrants are during the spring, summer and fall months,”said Sgt. Skibbe. “But generally once the snowplows go thru we rely on the good citizens to go out in front of their houses, where there is a hydrant, and you know kind of dig 'em out.”

Sgt. Skibbe said when they can’t find one hydrant, they go to the next one, which means it’ll take more time to get to the fire itself. In some cases, the hydrants they attempt to use are filled with frozen water.

“Once we get into actual fire attack we have water spraying on the house,” said Sgt. Skibbe about the water that goes everywhere. “So our ladders, our equipment, our tanks, ourselves will be covered in snow and ice.”

An additional obstacle he said is their health. When battling fires in frigid temperatures, crews go out in rotations he said. While one crew is working the fire, the other group is keeping warm inside a Metro bus parked nearby.

“We’ll bring warm drinks to the scene,” said Sgt. Skibbe. “It’s just all about keeping the hypothermia from setting in.”

Frostbite too, he said. Going back and forth between a hot fire and cold temperatures can lead to a range of illnesses that they try to avoid. Skibbe recommends that when people see them battling a fire to stay away so the don't get sick.

“Stay inside your homes,” he advised. “And if you have a a hydrant that you know is outside or near your property, maybe get on a schedule with your neighbors to maybe this week, I'll clear it. Next week you can clear it, just to keep it available for us when we need it.”

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