Responding in severe weather conditions…

Photo by Metro Detroit Fire Photography

Photo by Metro Detroit Fire Photography

If you haven’t heard, the East Coast has been hit with record setting snow and ice. Our Brothers and Sisters up North are used it this kind of weather … South of the Mason Dixon Line, not so much.

Used to it or not, responding in severe weather can be very unpredictable and poses many challenges to Fire and Emergency Services. To remain safe and efficient, we are forced to change or alter the way we conduct our duties. on Face Book

E13 and Reserve chained upSimply responding is a big issue. We always think about, teach and practice safe response. What good are we if we can’t / don’t get there?

Here in Southwest Virginia, we got around 2 foot of snow (plus or minus depending on location). That’s uncommon for us and many of our operators do not have a lot of experience driving in snow (much less driving a fire truck with hundreds of gallons of water, tools etc on board). Even if our operators are experienced (like mine), most of the other folks (civilians) out on the roads are most likely not.

We run snow chains on the rigs. A-shift learned yesterday that our assigned rig doesn’t do well in the snow … despite chains. The problem is with the front end … we can’t keep it in the road. We’re not sure if it’s due to the type and size of the tire (they are wide …425/65/22.5) or if it’s related to the Tak-4 suspension. Either way, it was decided that we’d use one of our older model Grumman reserve pieces.

Photo by Jordan Fifer

Photo by Jordan Fifer

Some of our rigs have OnSpot (automatic) chains but they don’t work in snow over a foot deep so every rig is running “traditional” chains. We also are running singles vs doubles and they haven’t been too effective in this deep snow.

We’ve had rigs (including ambulances and command vehicles) stuck on almost every incident today. On several occasions, our members had to walk in and wait for plows to clear a path for the needed apparatus.

Obviously, we’ve had some lengthy response times today due to the weather. Just running chains limits our top speed to 30 mph. Factor in single lanes, abandoned vehicles, traffic, and getting stuck ourselves and we don’t have much of a chance of hitting our 4 minute or below response time.


Photo from

Photo from

Getting there is just the beginning of the battle. What about a water supply? The snow trucks (plows) basically bury our hydrants in a mountain of snow.

We strap an extra couple of shoves onto the tailboard of our rig so that the back step firefighter can dig the hydrant out if necessary. That takes time that again delays our operations.

There also a good chance that even after he digs it out that it’ll be frozen. Then, we’ll have to go get another. That’s why, in these conditions; we don’t lay in until we know the hydrant is accessible and has water on it.

Again, our “tactics” are altered.

After we find a hydrant, then we have to worry about positioning. We still have to get to the address.

Photo from

Photo from

Even if we do manage to make the address (which is doubtful) we most likely will be positioned farther away than usual.

We will face piles of plowed snow at the curb. Snow covered sidewalks and no clear path to the structure.

This will certainly affect our stretch.

We will be stretching farther and over uncertain terrain.

I talked to my members this morning about this situation and the possibility of having to deploy 2 1/2″ hose with a gated wye vs. our standard 200′ of 1 3/4 pre-connect.

Again our tactics are altered and the time before we can get water on the fire is increased.

There are other factors to consider here as well. What kind of attack will we be making? Offensive, Defensive maybe transitional? With all this additional time we’ve accumulated, the fire has certainly gotten a good jump on us. Is life safety involved (is someone trapped inside)?

Ladder 2 on sceneWe’ll assume no for the sake of this conversation (this is not going to be a search or not search debate).  How long will it take before our 2nd due arrives? How long before the Ladder gets there? Will either of them make it?

How can I commit my members interior if I’m unsure whether or not back up will arrive?

Even if they do make it in, have I already lost too much time?

This is where knowing your building construction really comes into play.

Photo by Metro Detroit Fire Photography

Photo by Metro Detroit Fire Photography

Sure, there’s a lot of snow on the ground but guess where else it is?? ON THE ROOF!

You have to consider the location of the fire (basement, floor, attic etc). You also need to think about all that additional weight on that roof before you place your members under it… especially if the fire is near the roof line.

The same thoughts should apply for outside operations as well. Know what’s above you.

Think about all that snow / ice sliding off that roof and onto a firefighter set up in a defensive position.

Ground-ladder-gives-out-2 Statter911Think about these types of hazards should you decide to deploy ground ladders as well.

Think about what’s above and beneath that ladder.

The link below is  an older article from It includes a good video involving a ground ladder and snow / icy conditions. Well, the results aren’t “good” but there are lessons to be learned here….

Must see video from Ground ladder gives way dropping vertical vent crew to the ground.

(This was a fire  at  1685 Rue Notre-Dame in Saint-Sulpice, Quebec. The two firefighters on the garage roof come crashing down at about :50 into the video. It was later learned that they were not seriously injured.)

Legeros Fire BlogNow severe weather response is not just about fires.

We run numerous calls for motor vehicle accidents as well… it only make sense.

Many of the same issues apply with the addition of traffic jambs, blocked lanes etc.

This was a popular picture this week out of Raleigh, NC.

It made all the major sites such as CNN, The Huffington Post, Gawker, Slate and Reddit (and now you can add to that list).

Read about the photo HERE

Legeros Fire Blog HERE

Enlarge and take a look at that pic. Do you think these conditions will alter your response and / or strategy/tactics? I’m betting it will.

M3So we have fires and MVA’s, what about medical runs?

Yea… same problems only now, after getting there; we have to load a patient onto a stretcher and get them back out to the ambulance!

Will you allow a patient whom you normally wouldn’t to walk out to the unit? Maybe you just increase the staffing on the ambulance during ice and snow conditions?

Station 2There’s an idea … additional staffing on the rigs!

Keep in mind that working in these conditions is taxing on your members … mentally and physically.

Just walking around in 2 foot of snow is difficult.

Driving in these conditions requires absolute concentration and becomes very stressful.

If you’re like us, your members have been outside the station shoveling snow when they’re not out on a run.


Station 13 plowedThey are cold, wet and tired. Have you thought about injuries due to falls? How about frostbite or dehydration? (Yea… you can become dehydrated in these conditions)

We came in and cleaned the front and rear pool, shoveled the side walks and around the fuel pump.

Then it started snowing again. By evening, we had another 8 inches or so on the ground and all our work covered back up. It seems as if it’s been a never ending cycle today.

So anyway, I hope I’ve given you some things to think about. For those of you working a tour or pulling duty tonight / tomorrow … THANK YOU! Thank you for your service. Look after yourselves and your members.

Stay SAFE, warm and in House!

Captain Wines