East Tennessee firefighters face dangers, risks when winter weather hits

Local News

When there’s an emergency, they’re the ones running toward it. While a firefighter’s job comes with risks, there’s the reality of getting hurt especially when winter storms roll through.

Emergency calls still come in during the winter and with cold temperatures, as well as the water used to extinguish flames, it creates a number of dangers.

“It becomes icicles on our helmets. After a while, that sets in and could lead to some early signs of hypothermia. So the number one thing we’ve got to do is get out of our gear and into a warm environment,” said Jeff Bagwell with Rural Metro Fire Department, Knox County.

Bagwell says once crews are back at their station, they hang turnout gear in bays and turn up the heat to dry the gear out.

Firefighters all over East Tennessee watch one another while on the scene. The Knoxville Fire Department uses a rehab bus when conditions are below freezing.

“When you stop working, you cool down, that’s when hypothermia sets in. They can go into the rehab bus, warm up, get some coffee or hot chocolate and then go back in,” said Capt. D.J. Corcoran with KFD.

Fire departments say they remind crews to prepare 24 hours before a shift.

“Stay hydrated, because it doesn’t matter whether it’s cold or not. When you put on all that gear, you’re still going to sweat a lot,” said Bagwell.

Firefighters and medics check vital signs on the scene, making sure crews are staying healthy.

“A lot of times you’ll see exertion where they’re working really hard and they get winded,” said Corcoran.

“Crews are rotated in, basically, if they’re in an air pack that’s about a 20-minute operation,” added Bagwell.

Another risk that comes when extinguishing flames – ice.

“Anytime you use water on a fire, obviously you’re going to have potential for more freezing and then it becomes a slipping hazard, a tripping hazard for us,” said Bagwell.

For traction, firefighters carry sand, salt and kitty litter on their firetrucks in case a house fire becomes icy.

“That’s probably the most simplest and probably the one we can deal the best with,” added Corcoran.

No matter the season, firefighters say it’s our community that’s the reason they do this.

“Saving lives and property, that’s the number one thing,” said Bagwell.

The KFD uses the same rehab bus when it’s 85 degrees or hotter out. In the summer, it’s stocked with water and cool packs for crews to regain strength if they’re on a scene for an extended amount of time.

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