Firefighter Safety in Winter Weather

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As we come into the winter months (some of you have already had snow or icy conditions), it’s a good time for fire personnel to review some Lexipol policies relevant to winter weather and firefighter safety. Winter conditions create special issues impacting operations, personnel performance and department safety. Each of these areas should be reviewed prior to an emergency. Additionally, remember your equipment needs specific attention both at the scene and back at the station.

Every year, winter weather and safety conditions are at the crux of predictable and preventable accidents.

Following are some policy areas identified by the Lexipol Content Development team to review with your crew in advance of cold weather response. Understanding their application to cold weather operations will enhance firefighter safety and improve your operations.

General Operations

  • Incident Management: When it’s cold, consider planning for personnel to establish and staff a Rehab Division upon arrival to a scene where investigation or operations may continue for longer than 30 minutes.
  • Emergency Response: Drivers need to be especially aware of changing conditions when patchy ice is present. The area around the station may be dry, but road conditions can change en route. Set engine retarders and traction controls as conditions dictate.
  • Atmospheric Monitoring: Carbon monoxide (CO) calls increase markedly in cold weather. Keep in mind that monitoring equipment can be affected by cold or wet weather, so consider using a second instrument to confirm CO levels. Excessive CO levels may be present even when they are not indicated by the caller. Monitor occupant behavior and vital signs and, if the call involves gas or oil-fired appliances or fireplaces/chimneys of any type, monitor CO levels. Refer to the Lexipol Carbon Monoxide Detector Activation Policy as necessary.
  • Staging: When possible, avoid staging over snow or ice. Consider staging away from surrounding conditions that could cause other vehicles to lose control and run into personnel or apparatus.

Fire Prevention

  • Fire Watch Services: Consider response times under adverse weather conditions when deciding if a fire watch is required and if the agency should take control of the fire watch.

Training

  • Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Training: Drivers/operators should review all portions of their cold weather response training and employ this training when responding. Prior to an actual call for service, consider having new drivers/operators take out the apparatus to become familiar with how it drives and reacts under adverse conditions such as snow or ice.

Safety

  • Illness and Injury Prevention Program: Consider having the Health and Safety Officer include cold weather operations safety as part of new member orientation or scheduled safety meetings. Or, distribute a cold weather safety advisory as the weather begins to turn.
  • Apparatus/Vehicle Backing: Personnel involved in backing operations can slip and fall on ice or snow. Remind drivers/operators to immediately stop if they lose sight of spotters and remain stopped until visual contact is reestablished.
  • Fire Station Safety: Be mindful of wet areas in the station and snow or ice present on aprons and outdoor walkways. After apparatus and PPE is hosed down, skim wet areas and consider using fans or floor dryers to minimize additional hazards.
  • Reporting for Duty/Emergency Recall: Remind personnel of their duty to report, regardless of weather conditions, and the possibility of emergency recall. Personnel should keep their personal vehicles ready for response. If they may not be able to report for duty or respond to an emergency recall, they should consider staying closer to the station or at the station itself.

Every year, winter weather and safety conditions are at the crux of predictable and preventable accidents. By reviewing these policies and training on firefighter safety in advance, you can help mitigate know risks and protect your yourself, your team and your community.

See also: On-Demand Webinar – “Responding Safer Together: Law Enforcement Operations on the Fireground”

Scott Eskwitt

SCOTT ESKWITT is Director of Fire Policy and Training Content for Lexipol. He is an active member of the Fair Haven (NJ) Fire Department, serving as Chief from 2012 to 2015. He is also a member of the Fair Haven First Aid Squad and the Red Bank (NJ) Fire Department. Scott is also an attorney and has spent his legal career advising municipalities and fire departments on risk management, human resources and labor relations issues. His undergraduate degree in Industrial & Labor Relations was received from Cornell University and his law degree from SUNY Law at Buffalo.

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