Cold weather firefighting tips

Firefighting in cold weather still requires getting water to handlines and master streams. It's one of the most difficult tasks in winter firefighting. In icy temperatures, leading off from a frozen hydrant or pond may waste valuable minutes. That's why it's important to pre-plan wintertime water supply operations.

In Porter County, Indiana, members of Center Fire & Rescue rely on large diameter supply lines and tanker shuttles to provide adequate water. Planning officers know that it's difficult enough to secure water under ideal situations. But when the weather turns cold, the job becomes much more difficult. So they're preplanned for the worse case scenaio, matching mutual aid companies with their own resources to get the job done. Mutual aid also plays a vital role during "working" assignments, especially when one factors in firefighter rehab.

Important tips
Fighting fires in cold weather isn't only uncomfortable for front line personnel, it's damaging to equipment as well. Here are some tips from departments around the country, that may prove useful during cold weather incidents in your area:

  • Avoid coming up DRY, by initiating a hydrant "Pump-Out" plan
  • Apparatus maintenance is crucial! Make sure that tire chains or other traction devices are available for all first-in units
  • Develop a "contingency plan" with the authority or agency responsible for road maintenance and service 
  • Develop SOPs regarding "dry-pump" vs. "wet-pump" operations. Things to consider are response time, pump design and normal ambient temperature in the station
  • Carry a supply of salt, sand or oil-dry to enhance footing and reduce the possibility of falls
  • During heavy snowfalls, apparatus may be forced to operate "away" from the fire building
  • Extra lengths of attack line should be added to preconnects to compensate for the additional stretch
  • Following knockdown, when handlines are in standby, partially opened control valves will allow water to flow and prevent freezing.
  • Make sure that all waterways for monitors or deck pipes are dry, to avoid any freezing or clogging effects resulting from ice or slush
  • Follow the manufacturer's recommendations regarding the cold weather use of SCBA. Don't allow water to seep into regulators or emmission valves.

And finally, ensure that extra turnout gear is available, especially gloves. It's recommended that personnel wear layered clothing, rather than bulky articles.

Ours is a unique profession. As firefighters and EMTs, we're called upon to perform a number of important tasks, in a wide range of weather conditions. So whether we're working in desert heat — or arctic cold — our mission is always the same: to save the folks inside, and perhaps save their home.

(1) NOAA
(2) US Weather Service
(3) Battalion Chief Edward Hojnicki

Lou Angeli has been involved in filmmaking, television production and firefighting most of his life. On Sept. 11, 2002, while a member of the Kennett Fire Department in suburban Philadelphia, Angeli left fire-rescue as an active member. His focus now is making films that deal with emergency response and disasters, training first responders and serving as a firefighter advocate. Angeli now resides in Wilmington, Delaware.

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