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Along with flames and smoke, one of firefighters’ worst enemies is intense heat. Exposure to such high temperatures can cause heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Yet, during frigid winter calls, the cold can present just as much danger. It is common knowledge that firefighters train to encounter uncontrollable blazes and take precautions to deal with high temperatures. What is less obvious is the additional risks these heroes face when temperatures drop.
In extreme winter weather, the large amount of water used to battle a fire becomes a frozen hazard to those working in an already dangerous area. As fire hoses blast water to tame a fire, water sprays everywhere, creating an icy hazard in addition to the fiery one.
Water hoses drench everything in the vicinity, turning streets and sidewalks into treacherous frozen terrain. The frozen water builds up on hydrants, freezes in hoses, and interferes with the operation of pumps.
Nearby water sources, such as lakes and ponds, which are sometimes tapped during a fire, can become inaccessible when frozen. Often, firefighters need to draft water from these alternative sources when hydrants are not available, are unable to meet the flow rate required for the job, or—perhaps due to the weather—not functioning properly.
The necessity of hacking at a layer of ice for access to this water in an emergency presents an added job hazard.
Besides the frozen sheets of ice that may cause slip-and-fall injuries, the spewing water creates unsafe conditions for the firefighters by drenching their gear. The personal discomfort of soaking wet gear is one thing; but when that gear freezes, the difficulty and dangers of the job are compounded.
Even though the gear worn by each firefighter is designed to avoid being penetrated by water, water can still cover their coats, boots, gloves, and helmets. Working with this much water—sometimes for hours—when the air temperature is below freezing is a recipe for disaster. Water is bound to seep in and become a problem. This is especially true when the stakes are so high that adrenaline prevents these emergency workers from focusing on the cold until after it has caused harm.
Fire chiefs try to cycle firefighters through to prevent these issues. But they still encounter problems going from one extreme temperature to another, and back again. It can be unsafe to alternate back and forth within such a wide temperature range with little chance for the body to acclimate.
The U.S. Fire Administration says that fires are more common in winter months than at other times of the year, as homes are more susceptible to trouble stemming from overloaded furnaces, unsafe chimneys, or combustibles being stored too closely to a heat source. Misuse of space heaters and even kitchen ovens can also cause problems as people try to keep warm.
Firefighters put themselves in harm’s way every day to save lives. Additional risks brought on by wintry conditions make the job that much more perilous for them.
Firefighters who have been injured during a cold-weather fire should know that they may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits. Talk with the Wilmington Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow to learn more. Fill out an online contact form or call our Wilmington office at 302-427-9500, our Bear office at 302-834-8484, or our Milford office at 302-422-6705. We serve clients in Elsmere, Seaford, and throughout Delaware.