Firefighters respond to extreme heat while battling freezing cold

MADISON, Wis.– A fireman’s bunker gear protects them from heat.

“The layers are the most important thing to have,” Madison Fire Apparatus Engineer Joe Tiller said.

It’s the stuff underneath that keeps Tiller warm when the temperature drops this low.

“If I’m going inside, I probably won’t have a sweatshirt on. If I know I’m going to be on an outside operation, I’m going to put more on, because once you get wet, this is all going to freeze,” Tiller said.

Fighting fires is already difficult, but Madison Fire Chief Steve Davis said it’s a whole other challenge when their top tool can freeze.

“Water that’s constantly flowing has a really hard time of freezing. So, when a fire engine goes on a call, they recirculate the water that’s on that vehicle,” Davis said. “When we go to a structure fire, we won’t turn the hoses all the way off so we always have constant flow.”

The water might be flowing, but now also freezing on the ground, creating slip hazards for anyone on scene.

Davis said the cold weather also takes a toll on the trucks’ computer systems.

There’s no easy solution for this problem, even with all of the gear.

“It’s always a heavier physical demand on our people during the cold times, just because the cold creates that physical reaction,” Davis said.

The department does dip into other city resources to make their job just a little but warmer.

“(Metro will) free up a bus and we’ll use those as a warming shelter for our people,” Davis said.

Those buses are where firefighters, like Tiller, find a moment of relief.

“You’re not going to pull this off until you go into the bus, because you won’t be able to take it off,” Tiller said.

If it’s going to be a longer call, crews will switch off every 15 minutes to make sure everyone stays warm.

Davis said cooking, space heaters and cigarettes are all common causes for the house fires they respond to in the winter.

While people are shoveling the driveway, remember to dig out the nearby fire hydrant (about three feet on each side). If someone is physically unable, they can call Madison Fire Department or Madison Water Utility to come do it before it is needed in an emergency.