Fire fighting in subzero weather

The historical arctic air blast over the U.S. beginning of January 2014 caused temperatures to drop to as low as -40°C. However, these temperatures do not prevent the outbreak of fires. In Ann Arbor, Mich., on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, firefighters covered in ice needed several hours in temperatures that dipped to -25°C to extinguish a blaze at a pizza shop.

Overnight lows well below zero pose a number of problems for firefighting crews. They not only have to cope with ice-covered equipment, but generally with many threats during firefighting. Firefighters are often hampered by wind chills of as low as 50°C below zero. The gear then quickly freezes and heavy frostbite may result. Therefore, gear preparation is vital to successfully combating fire in cold weather. A cold firefighter exhausts more quickly, and rapidly becomes ineffective when the temperature bottoms out.

Firefighting operations are hampered by frozen fire hydrants and the firefighting water has to be shuttled in by tankers. Very often, water turns into ice crystals, before it reaches the seat of the fire. Particular care must be taken of snow and ice accumulation on load-bearing platforms, such as roofs, which could increase the potential for building collapse and hamper rescue operations.

Hoseline nozzles not in operation should be left flowing to prevent them from icing over; if possible, nozzles should be placed near the exhaust of a truck to keep them defrosted.

The firefighting water leads to glaze ice, with, as a consequence, injuries following slipping and falling on the ice. Therefore, setting up the fire ground is an essential factor for firefighter safety. Fire fighting relevant zones must be cleared of snow, ice, slush, and spreading sand is a must to prevent accidents.


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