Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ice Is a Challenge for Firefighters

Excerpt from “10-24: A Firefighter Looks Back
From Chapter 11: Running Hot & Cold

“[Ice resulting from hose line water streams] can be a serious impediment to firefighting operations overall.

We learned during one particularly cold winter season that when temperatures get to a certain low point, and are sustained there for a day, even the small amount water remaining within the fire engine pumps can freeze, rendering hydrants and the 500 gallons of water carried on the engine totally useless and unattainable. As a result all engine pumps would need to be drained of any water that would be susceptible to freezing and interfering with the ability to pump any water. This meant a moment or two on a fire scene priming the dry pump for operation, but the slight delay was better than the alternative.

In some subzero responses, many joked that the colder it was, the more firefighters wanted to be inside fighting the fire. It was the best source of heat, and it followed that some kidded about not knocking a fire down too fast so they could ward off the cold a bit longer.

Even if that were true, it wouldn’t let anyone escape the grueling task of sub-zero post-fire cleanup, gathering frozen hose and equipment while slipping on icy surfaces everywhere.

In warm weather, drained fire hoses could be disconnected and rolled up for transport back to the station. In sub-zero weather, the spaghetti-like pattern of hoses surrounding a fire scene is quickly frozen. Much of the water remaining inside freezes and hinders any attempt to drain the rest, and nearly a half-inch of now frozen mist encases the outside of the hose. What normally would be a quick job of rolling up lengths of drained hose instead became an exercise in folding awkward lengths of frozen stiff and heavy hose and heaving them into a department squad or pickup truck bed or other department vehicle for transport.

Once back at the station, they would need to be thawed first, then drained and cleaned.
Many firefighters outside during firefighting operation are subject to this frozen spray as well. In addition to icicles forming on helmet rims -- and even from mustaches on those so equipped -- ice formed on the outside of bunker coats and pants, sometimes so thick that it seriously hindered movement.

At one such fire, a Salvation Army truck was on hand providing hot coffee or hot
chocolate along with warm cotton gloves to freezing firefighters. When another firefighter and I stopped by to grab a cup to warm up, I reached out and picked up a styrofoam cup full of hot coffee, only to discover that enough ice had formed on my bunker coat and sleeves to keep me from bringing the cup to my own lips. Seeing this, the other firefighter reached over and broke up the ice at the elbow bend of my coat, loosening it so I could maneuver my hot coffee. After he loosened up my two elbows, I did the same for him.

As firefighters approached the coffee van, it started to look like a scene out of the Wizard of Oz where the Tin Man needed to have all his joints oiled before he could move.”

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