Burning houses do not keep firefighters warm - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Extreme cold temperatures make it harder to fight fires


The cold weather has moved into the valley, and it's going to get even colder next week.

The low temperatures outside are not just uncomfortable, they're making it tougher for our firefighters to do their jobs.  

Having a front row seat at a huge bonfire seems like the best place to be in below freezing temperatures, but the work of a firefighter puts them in a position to be, ironically, even colder.

When it comes to fighting fires, colder temperatures make everything more complicated.

"We don't mind the cold weather, but the extreme cold weather is not fun, because you can never put enough on," said Captain Bobby Southerland of the Columbus Fire Department. 

You might think the protective clothing that keeps firefighters insulated against flames, and heat would also work against cold, but there's more to consider.  

"You're kind of warm in your gear, until you get wet.  Then you start freezing up. I've been at fires where I had to get ice off my mustache," said Southerland.

Sometimes large fires and rescue operations call for firefighters to be at the scene of a burning building for hours. Water may not be cold when it comes out of the hose, but the mist that floats through the air gets on everything, and in these temperatures, it freezes quickly.   Firefighters have to be careful they don't slip and fall, or get hypothermia.  

Also, equipment like oxygen tanks- the air that firefighters depend on to keep from suffering smoke inhalation while in the thick of things- doesn't always perform like it should.  

"We've had problems where fire hydrants are leaking and froze up," said Southerland, "even some of our breathing apparatus, it's only designed to go down to so many degrees.   This air, this wind chill, it affects everybody."

A small amount of moisture in the regulators can freeze them up and keep them from dispensing the air when they need it.  

Captain Southerland said the key is to make sure firefighters are working in shifts and getting plenty of rest in warm places.   Today's fire trucks have improved defenses against severe weather.   In years past, the cabs used to be open to the air- but now there are enclosed spaces for firefighters to get away from the elements. 

You can help these firefighters stay out of dangerously cold weather by taking the proper precautions to ensure fires don't occur in the first place.   And of course, this benefits you too. Make sure you're not overusing heating devices. Keep them away from clothing, and material that can catch fire.

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