The nature of the fire service is preparedness; being ready to respond to whatever the community needs, whether it’s rendering advanced medical care, fighting fire, preventing emergencies or simply helping to solve problems. The current cold weather doesn’t change that mission, but adds to the steps taken to provide effective and reliable emergency response. For example, all TVF&R response vehicles are equipped with chains.
How do operations change if a major weather event occurs?
- If a major weather event occurs, staffing may be enhanced and additional 4x4 vehicles will be deployed to respond to hilly areas more susceptible to snow and ice.
- During past winter storms, call volume has doubled during peak times. If incidents begin to increase, fire commanders may place a representative at the Washington County 9-1-1 dispatch center to assist with prioritizing calls in TVF&R’s service area.
- If call volume spikes, emergency agencies like TVF&R may have to prioritize response to focus on the most serious incidents (such as fires and incidents with known life-safety hazards). Lower priority calls involving basic first aid and public assistance such as wires down, welfare checks, and non-fire activations of commercial alarms could be handled by 4x4 emergency operations vehicles staffed with call-back career personnel, volunteer firefighters, or fire prevention and training officers.
- Creative tactics may be used to reach and transport patients (e.g., TVF&R once used a backboard to get a patient down off a hill and into an ambulance during a winter storm.)
What types of calls increase during cold weather or snow events?
- Motor vehicle collisions, falls, and sledding accidents.
- Cardiac events may also increase during cold weather.
- Fires related to space heaters and fireplace ashes.
- Water problems caused by burst pipes (after they’ve frozen/thawed).
How is firefighting affected by frigid weather?
- Water is a lifeline at a fire incident, but water and freezing temperatures can create a small ice rink in a street.
- Rooftops become treacherous, steps and running boards on the apparatus can be icy; and hand tools can be slippery.
- Fire hoses (while they won't freeze with water running through them) have to be rolled up quickly after extinguishing a fire to avoid becoming brittle and hard to move.
- Hypothermia and frostbite can quickly set in on an extended operation for responders and victims. (We will call for a Tri-Met bus to provide shelter if needed.)
Can a Fire Hydrant Freeze?
- Most hydrants in this region are a “dry” system = water is not stored in the hydrant itself, but below ground where upon demand flows through the valve and connectors to feed fire hoses. Note: Tualatin Valley Water District indicates that their most shallow point is 3 feet below ground.
Safety reminders during cold weather events:
- It’s important to exercise safety with home heating equipment.
- Never use kerosene, propane, or other outdoor-use heaters indoors due to the high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Space heaters need space! Many units have exposed surfaces which become very hot. Keep portable heaters at least three feet away from combustibles such as bedding, furniture, and/or drapes.
- Make sure your portable heater has a “tip switch” which automatically shuts off the heater in the event the unit is knocked over.
- Never dry clothes or shoes by placing them on top of a heating unit.
- Always turn off space heaters when you go to bed or leave the house.
- Do not store combustibles too close to fireplaces or heaters.
- With temperatures below freezing, pipes and faucets near or in exterior walls may be at risk of freezing and bursting, resulting in a water problem when warmer temperatures return.
- Know how to shut-off the water to your home and unhook outside hoses from faucets.
- Place foam covers over outside faucets and crawl space openings.
- Leaving a trickle of water running from a faucet farthest away from the water meter can be helpful.
- You can also wrap insulating material or electrical wire heating wrap around the pipes. This can be purchased at any home improvement store.
- Never use a propane torch or an open flame to thaw a pipe due to the risk of igniting wood beams, flooring and other combustible materials around pipes.
- Prepare for power outages and other problems that happen during the winter months.
- Gather necessary supplies including flashlights, extra batteries, water, food, blankets, cell phone (vehicle) charger, manual can opener, battery-operated clock, etc.
- Stock up on food and water, as well as necessary medications.