Subfreezing temperatures over the weekend are threatening to slow down metro firefighters. Crews not only have to battle flames, but also temperatures cold enough to freeze their water supply.
This is why firefighters take their own precautions before and after responding to calls.
Water, the key ingredient in dousing flames, can actually add to the challenge of fighting fires in winter weather.
Not only do fire engines carry chains and cables for their tires to traverse the vast expanses of ice created by their efforts, but crews also have to take extra steps to keep their equipment fully functional.
“If you get water in the pump and it freezes, it’ll cause the pump to crack and then you won’t be able to pump,” said Oklahoma City fire Maj. David Shearer.
Crews have to empty the engine's pumps and hoses as soon as they are done using water.
“We break it down very quickly, and drain it so that it doesn’t begin to form ice crystals inside the hose because when we roll them up with the ice crystals it can damage the hose,” said Shearer.
Hoses used in freezing conditions then have to return to station to dry out completely before fighting fires again.
When the small, nine-gallon pump that is connected to the engine's 500-gallon tank is emptied, it has to be primed at the next scene before water can flow freely once more.
“It does delay the amount of time it takes us to get water on the fire by a few seconds," Shearer said. “People get frustrated sometimes when they think it’s taking a long time to get water at the scene of a fire, and they may think that you’re not doing your job or you don’t know what you’re doing, but in fact there’s really a lot of process to go through in order to get the pump operating to get water to the fire when we need it.”
One way fire crews get around potential delays is by using different hoses and different engines to pump water at each scene. That ensures the shortest time spent dousing the flames and standing out in the frigid winter air.