Cold Front in Midwest Presents Problems for Firefighters

As temperatures continue to drop in parts of the Midwestern United States, firefighters are faced with mechanical and technical issues due to icy vehicles and frozen hoses, as well as higher rates of house fires.

Eight people have died as a result of the Polar Vortex and many states have declared a State of Emergency with limited services taking place until the freeze begins to thaw.

In an interview with ABC Nebraska, fire chief of Grand Island Fire Department Scott Kuehl said “We do have an uptick in fires this time of year because of space heaters being used. Things like appliances and heaters malfunctioning because of such strenuous use and the cold weather here. So yes, we do see an uptick in those types of fires.”

Not only are instances of fire more common in winter, they can also be more difficult for fire crews to put out, especially when temperatures drop as low as -24 Fahrenheit, as they did in Des Moines, Iowa this week. reported that firefighters in Des Moines, Iowa working through the night to put out a house fire had to take extra precautions to avoid slippery surfaces and to keep their gear from freezing while they worked.

Fire crews help with a 24-vehicle pileup in Ottawa County, Michigan during snowy conditions

And in Madison, Wisconsin, fire crews who responded to a late night blaze had to take turns putting out the flames so that no one was put at risk of frostbite or other weather-related injuries.

Speaking with local television station WKOW, Madison Fire Chief Steve Davis said the emergency was during one of the coldest nights he’s ever worked in his three decades at the fire department. The thermometer read -21 degrees, but with the windchill it felt more like -46 degrees.

“Our people just did a phenomenal job. We asked a lot of them,” Davis said. “To do those 10-minute rotations in this cold was a big ask of anybody and our people just performed phenomenally.”

The shifts prevented any firefighters from sustaining a serious injury during the emergency but there were reports of hoses, hydrants, and even breathing masks that froze in the time the crew showed up on the scene and put out the fire.

Scott Kuehl says another big challenge for firefighters, apart from freezing gear, is freezing water. When we are spraying water, the water tends to freeze before it actually runs off the structure. The structure is already being compromised because of the fire so it could lead to a catastrophic failure of the roofs or walls because the water weighs eight pounds a gallon, and our trucks pump 500 gallons a minute.”

Please check with state and local emergency services in your area to follow the safety precautions recommended by them.