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First Responders Face Challenges As Temps Fall

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Joel Thomas
Joel is an Emmy Award winning journalist with more than 15 year...
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TARRANT COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – No matter the cold, firefighters still have the same mission. And when temperatures go down the number of challenges facing emergency first responders goes up.

Phillip Alvarado, a firefighter with the Arlington Fire Department, said there are a number of challenges during cold snaps. “Yeah, there’s a lot of concern when the temperatures go down.  Obviously, our primary concern is exposure.”

Their goal is to limit the time patients and emergency crews are exposed to frigid temperatures. In the course of fighting a fire crews can be on a scene for hours.  And no matter how low the temperature dips outdoors, firefighters will sweat under their protective fire gear.

“When you do take off your coat and take everything off and your sitting there trying to re-acclimate yourself it is a little bit cold,” Alvarado explained, adding, “The wind chill is [also] a big factor for us.”

Firefighters can often be seen shivering next to portable heaters, after pulling their protective gear off.

The warm air being breathed out is a visible example that firefighters can also have problems being able to see clearly. Alvarado said, “What happens is the mask fogs over.”

To help prevent foggy helmets, firefighters use a special valve from their air supply to clear their masks.

While out in the cold, firefighters also have to worry about water in the valves and lines of their tanker trucks.  Those lines and valves can actually freeze, causing expensive damage.

And when you’re talking cold weather and water… there’s always ice. CBS 11 News captured video at a fire scene that clearly showed icicles on the fire gear. The more water that runs off of a fire and freezes the more treacherous a firefighter’s job becomes.

“You kind of move at a fast pace,” Alvarado said. “We call it ‘moving with a purpose.’ So when you’re walking on ice we’re having to carry hoses, ladders, chainsaws. You do have to be careful.”

Most North Texas firefighters are thankful the current arctic blast doesn’t include ice. During last month’s ice storm pedestrian driver skidded out of and smashed into a fire engine, just as a firefighter was about to climb out. Alvarado remembers the incident vividly. “It would have been even more catastrophic if that firefighter had dismounted and was standing here.”

Firefighters say they regularly see resident’s driveways or sidewalks covered with a sheet of ice when they arrive at a scene.  The icy paths are caused when outside faucets are left dripping or sprinkler systems are left on. Alvarado advises residents to, “…cover the outside pipes instead of letting them drip.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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