First responders say preparation is key during cold temp emergencies

First-responders use rotate crews during severe cold weather emergencies

Along with fighting flames early Monday, the La Crosse Fire Department also had to battle the brutal cold worrying about everything from general firefighter safety to whether or not the equipment would freeze up.

It happened as temperatures in our area dropped to around 10 below zero, and that does not factor in wind chill.

Battling the fire was not an easy task but emergency responders said they always prepare with the weather in mind.

Whether it’s 95 degrees or negative 25 degrees outside, when the alarms go off emergency responders have a job to do.

“The first fire units on scene encountered heavy fire and smoke,” said Tom Wallerich, a division chief for the La Crosse Fire Department.

However, weather does play a huge role.

“Last night with the way the conditions were, everything would freeze up immediately,” said Wallerich.

“Our radios freeze, our air packs freeze, our thermo-imaging cameras freeze,” said Mark Amann, a division chief with the La Crosse Fire Department.

“You know what it’s like when you get your hands wet outside when it’s this cold, now imagine spraying water in this type of condition,” said Wallerich.”

That is why emergency responders try to stay one step ahead of Mother Nature through preparation.

“The shift commander on duty at the time called in extra people and equipment to make sure we had that backup in place,” said Wallerich. “We rotated people in and out of the structure a lot just to keep the equipment from freezing up.”

Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance has a similar plan.

“We have what’s called opgon levels so if the weather is looking like it would increase our call level, we staff up,” said Darin Wendel, the clinical manager for Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance. “If we have an extreme weather incident with long extrication we will involve multiple crews to kind of be with the patient and then rotate so we stay warm.”

Tri-State also has a technician on hand to make sure the ambulances are running properly.

“He is on call 24/7 and he has done a great job keeping our fleet ready for cold weather,” said Wendel.

Weather and emergencies can both be unpredictable. However, when there’s a job that needs to be done, weather takes a backseat

“That’s why we train day in and day out to try to stay proficient at what we do.” said Wallerich.

Both the La Crosse Fire Department and Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance say they also specifically train for these conditions so they know exactly what to expect when responding to an emergency.