For kids, a snowy forecast is cheerfully received as a sign that tomorrow will be an easy day. No school, watch some movies, have mom bake some cookies. In the fire service, some make similar assumptions - no drill today, chief won't be by on rounds, just show up to nap and run some calls. WRONG.
Across the country, some firefighters deal with snow more than others. Some who deal with it rarely (southeast) are dealing with it a lot this winter. While there are others out there much more experienced in snow related firefighting tips, here is one general rule to remember: in inclement weather everything moves slower - so everything you do (or don't do) MATTERS MORE.
While the daily routine may slow down for snow, the fires do not. Often, we run more fires due to the creative alternate heating ideas our power-less citizens come up with. These fires burn just as hot and just as quick as on a sunny fall day. Any time you might have on a regular day to "catch up" will be eaten up by delayed response times and the fact that it takes longer to cut roofs, run lines, throw ladders, etc when your trudging through snow and ice. Some may consider this weather to be "unique circumstances" that allow for bending the rules and cutting corners. DO NOT CUT CORNERS. You must be even more on your toes and even more pro-active than usual, because you do not have any time to make up for it.
Some thoughts for the day:
- Check the rigs as normal, and then some. Any equipment not performing up to par will hamper you on the fireground. Small motors (saws, fans, etc) warmed up by running for a little while will run smoother on the fireground. CFD Engine/Ladder 14 has been on top of this today!
- Stay abreast of road conditions in your 1st due. Depending on the size of your overall Department, your Company may have roads/areas that are effected differently then elsewhere. Some may be knee deep in snow, requiring chains. Some may barely have a sprinkle, making chains more of a hinderance then a help. If your Department deploys a blanket "everyone with chains" or "everyone no chains" policy - consider forwarding observations of your local alarm area's conditions up the chain of the command and requesting permission to adapt.
- Officers - brief your crew in the AM. What's the plan for the day and how does it deviate from normal? Battalion Chiefs should pass down any overall department plans, changes in staffing, response alterations, etc.
- Bring extra clothes. Sounds obvious and stupid, but many don't do it. I don't know about you, but I can accomplish anything if my feet and hands are warm. Bring extra personal clothes (t-shirts, thermals, socks, winter hat, etc) as well as extra firefighting gear if you can (hood, gloves).
- Step with caution on the fireground. "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast". If you try to move at the same speed today that you do in July, you may end up on your back. This not only delays execution of whatever your task is, but may take you out of the game and create a manpower shortage. Get it done RIGHT, without hurting yourself.
- Take care of your hydrants. As you run routine calls (Medical, alarms, etc) check the area hydrants. I wouldn't advocate flowing water - but loosening the caps and clearing ice/snow will go a long way to help for "the fire".
Some random operational thoughts:
- Pump operators - keep some flares handy to quickly defrost connections, keep water circulating.
- Roof ventilation - what's a walkable pitch any other day may not be today, use added caution. Also consider snow as additional weight on flat roofs - it weighs more thank you think.
- Portable ladders - sink them deep in the ground. Consider using alternate means (webbing, rope, etc) to secure feet from kicking out on slippery surfaces.
- Incident Commanders - request additional resources early. Plan for the worst case. They will take longer to get to you than usual. People will get more tired more quickly in bad weather.
What are your tips for the winter fireground?