An inside look: Fighting fires in icy temperatures

Published On: Jan 30 2013 03:36:03 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 22 2013 07:11:12 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

Firefighting is already a dangerous job.

Add dangerously cold temperatures to the mix and firefighters have to take even more precautions to keep themselves, and the public, safe. Otherwise, they could end up fighting with the gear they need to fight the fires when every second counts.

It was 8 degrees below zero Tuesday morning when firefighters were called to a 7:30 a.m. fire at a La Crosse apartment complex at 1321 South 4th St.

At that temperature, water can freeze in minutes, which can make using a fire hose tricky.

"With the hose lines themselves, they'll freeze up. So just like if you have a faucet that's prone to freezing at home, we'll leave that nozzle opened up a little bit so the water keeps moving and it doesn't freeze up as easily,” said La Crosse Fire Division Chief Jeff Murphy.

But that water has to go somewhere.

"Well, that's the problem, is all the water that we run through the hose is typically under the apparatus and out the end of the hoses. That's freezing up on the sidewalks and in the streets. So there's always more slip hazards," said Murphy.

The weather can also be dangerous for people escaping the fire.

On Tuesday morning, firefighters kept children warm inside a fire truck until a Municipal Transit Unit bus arrived.

“It's something people maybe don't think about, that we're here to help in emergencies,” said La Crosse Transit Manager Keith Carlson. “Whether it's residents, or it could be just a place for the firefighters to warm up, they call us when they feel the situation warrants and we show up with a bus."

After the fire has been put out, the fire truck and all the gear are taken back inside the station, so they're warmed up and ready to go for the next emergency.

Murphy said anyone who needs to leave a building to escape a fire should not stop to grab a coat. The fire is a more immediate danger than the cold temperatures. He said it’s better to get out right away and find somewhere warm to wait for firefighters to arrive.

Fire investigators say an overheated wall heater caused Tuesday morning’s apartment fire. The American Red Cross is helping the family displaced by the fire. No injuries were reported.