Fire crews preparing to work in 'dreadfully' cold weather

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by Lane Kimble

WAUWATOSA -- When the temperature gets as cold as we're expecting the next few days, it's easy to shut things down and stay put in your warm house.  But emergency crews don't have that luxury, which means they have to prepare for the worst Wisconsin can dish out.

"Absolutely dread, for sure," Wauwatosa Deputy Fire Chief Stacey Lueptow said.

"It's stressful enough, the guys already have a lot on their minds as it is.  Plus, then they're  fighting the cold, some ice on the ground now, maybe some lines freezing."
 

Lueptow fought plenty of fires in the cold in her 14 years with  the department.  She says firefighters typically wear the same gear, whether it's January or July.

"We gear up pretty much the same," Lueptow said.  "Guys will bring extra gloves, extra gear in case they get wet.  Maybe some hats, things like that.   But when we're dressed to go in, we're dressed to go in.  So the big thing here is we get extra resources on scene."

Crews in Racine County dealt with the extreme cold Friday morning.  Nineteen different agencies worked to  put out a fire at a Waterford business and home while dealing with sub-zero conditions.

"Hindered our progress at first," Waterford Fire Chief Rick Huening said.  "Just with the cold temperatures, trucks freezing up.  Water and cold don't mix."

Water in tanks and pipes can freeze if crews don't recirculate it  regularly.  It can even get cold enough for hydrants to freeze on scene.

"If we come upon it and we're not getting anything out of it, we might have to go down another  several blocks to find a new one, so that is another problem, laying out more and more hose that can  potentially freeze," Lueptow said.

Crews use torpedo heaters to thaw pipes and keep themselves warm.  A consistent rotation of  firefighters on and off the scene helps too.  The biggest thing you can do: keep the hydrants in front of your house clear of snow and ice.

"It's just what we do," Lueptow said.  "Whether hot or cold, we have to work with what we have."

Deputy chief Lueptow tells CBS-58 her crews don't get special training for the cold and ice, but they always have a safety officer on scene and ready to help.

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