Bitterly cold weather is causing concern for area firefighters.
The frigid weather has been creating hazards for firefighters trying to stay safe and keep equipment working in icy conditions.
Fremont Rural has fought five structure fires in three days — from Dec. 28-30. That doesn’t include the fire at the old Uncle Larry’s southeast of Fremont which occurred on Dec. 26.
And with temperatures in single digits or below zero, firefighters have been battling fire and extreme cold.
“I’ve done this for 24 years and I don’t know if I can remember temperatures this cold,” said Fremont Rural Assistant Fire Chief Carl Nielsen.
Nickerson Fire Chief Dusty Menking attested to Nielsen’s bone-chilling observation.
“It’s pretty brutal,” Menking said, adding, “It’s one of the biggest things we have for concerns is the safety of the firefighters.”
Menking pointed out some of the dangers.
“When you fight fires, you get wet — and when you get wet you get even colder,” Menking said.
Nielsen cited a specific instance.
“Our guys on Thursday morning (Dec. 28) were getting into trucks after a while,” Nielsen said. “They had to get in there to thaw out, because as they were spraying water they were getting wet.”
Then their bunker gear would freeze so they could hardly move.
“The gear gets so stiff once it gets wet when the temperatures get like this,” Nielsen said.
Working in such frigid situations can lead to frostbite, when extreme cold freezes the skin, and hypothermia, which according to the Mayo Clinic can cause dangerously low body temperatures and lead to death.
Exerting themselves in the cold weather is dangerous, too, as firefighters must perform very strenuous tasks such as pulling heavy water hoses.
“The leading cause for the firefighters’ death is heart attack and it’s usually in response to these types of situations,” Menking said.
Nielsen pointed out other hazards, such as possible slips and falls.
“When you’re spraying water — when the temperatures are like this — as soon as that water hits anything it immediately turns to ice. So you’ve got slip hazards,” Nielsen said.
Menking pointed out the potential hazards for motorists.
“You have all this apparatus on the road that’s in your way now and you’re not expecting it that early in the morning. It can be kind of treacherous,” Menking said.
The icy cold weather isn’t easy on equipment either and there are other challenges.
For one thing, water must be shuttled to these rural locations because there aren’t hydrants in the district, Menking said. That means water must come from a tank.
“Keeping things flowing so it doesn’t freeze up is challenging itself,” he said.
All this doesn’t include the cleanup afterward.
“The number of man hours that go into a call as far as a structure fire or any fire call like this where you have multiple departments is compounded when it comes down to cold weather,” Menking said.
Firefighters are looking ahead.
“The thing we’re going to have to start worrying about now if we get any more is taking care of the guys because of the cold and taking care of our apparatus (technical equipment), because our apparatus doesn’t like the cold either,” Nielsen said.