Onalaska firefighters face different challenges in icy temperatures

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) — Firefighting can be trickier in the cold for multiple reasons. On Tuesday, Firefighters responded to a duplex fire in the bitter cold in Onalaska.

“Doesn’t matter the weather, we’re going to go and figure it out,” said firefighter and EMT Peter Coppola.

During the winter, they see some different causes for calls.

“We see people heating their houses with other methods that aren’t very safe, so that increases fires in the winter with cold weather,” Coppola said.

And on days like Tuesday, icy temperatures can complicate things.

“We’re flowing water on the fire, so stuff’s freezing with runoff and gears freezing, anything that’s getting wet is freezing up,” Coppola said. “Opening up hydrants is a challenge, when it’s this cold a lot of stuff freezes shut.”

One way to help those firefighters is by clearing out the area around fire hydrants when you’re shoveling snow. It makes it easier for them to access that critical water supply, Coppola said.

The deep freeze leads to a tougher time in the fight and also a longer cleanup afterwards.

“All of that stuff is going to be frozen at the end when we stop flowing the water, so we come back here and have a couple hours of cleanup that we have to do,” Coppola said.

Though the call volume stays the same throughout the year, many of these fires can be prevented.

“Keeping combustible things away from heating elements, making sure you don’t have outlets overloaded,” Coppola said.

Even with these challenges, Coppola enjoys the work he does.

“It comes down to just wanting to help the community,” he said.