While most of us will stay inside and brave the cold temperatures — some have no choice but to be outside in this weather.
Firefighters must brave the subzero temperatures and wind chills while working with water and in conditions that are often life-threatening. West Des Moines Fire Marshal Mike Whitsel says it’s something they talk about often.
“Whenever we are subject to exposures with weather –whether it’s in the middle of July or in the middle of December and January when it’s extremely cold — we always take time every morning before every shift to remind all the firefighters they you need to take some time to protect yourself,” Whitsel says.
Firefighters are reminded to be sure all gloves and hats are ready to go and don’t have holes and he says they will often wear extra layers of clothes, including long johns and shirts, and will use hand and foot warmer packets.
Whitsel says as another precaution, they keep track of the time firefighters are in the cold.
“Our EMS crews on these calls will show up on the scene and they’ll run a timer and they start putting our crews through a re-hab process to get us warm periodically — it could be every 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes — whatever the exposure, whether you are cold or not, you go through rehab,” Whitsel explains. He says another factor that sometimes is forgotten in the winter is the need to drink enough water while they are working.
“You can get dehydrated at any time whether it is hot or cold outside,” Whitsel says, “so it’s keeping the liquids inside of you as well. Because if you get dehydrate your body is overcompensating for that and it could subject you to getting frostbite a heck of a lot quicker.” Whitsel says they also have to be careful to maintain their equipment in the cold conditions.
He says the trucks will leak water and they have to be sure they are cycling the pumps out, so the water doesn’t freeze and break the trucks. Whitsel says firefighters also keep an eye on each other. If they see a fellow firefighter that looks like they are struggling with the conditions, they work with them to help them out.