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How Firefighters Do Their Job In Sub-Zero Temperatures

IFB Battalion Chief Howard Stahl says "strange things" happen when they fight a fire in temperatures that get below zero.

STATEWIDE -- A firefighters' job is already tough enough when they go on a run and it is sunny and 75-degrees outside. But it gets a little tougher when temperatures go below zero.

Several house fires broke out across the state last night in Allen, St. Joseph, and Scott Counties, all of which saw sub-zero lows. At one point this morning it was colder in Indiana than it was in Antarctica. 

Battalion Chief Howard Stahl with the Indianapolis Fire Department says even in the extreme cold, their plan of attack when they go on a run doesn't change too much.

"Even down to freezing or down to 15 or 20 degrees, things are still pretty normal," Stahl said. "But once it gets down to sub-zero, even the double-digit sub-zero temperatures strange things start to happen. The wind itself feels like darts are being thrown at your face."

Some of those strange things that Stahl alludes to include: fuel for their diesel engines "gelling up", hoses freezing up, compartment doors freezing up, and hydraulics to operate ladders "gumming up". With all these problems that can happen in the extreme cold, Stahl adds that there is not a whole lot they can do to keep them from happening.

"Really, we just go out and do our normal operations, there's not a whole lot else you can do," Stahl continued. "We go out and it's just that cold that strange things start to happen."

Stahl says firefighters layer up just as much if not more than you do when you go outside with it is 10-below zero, even though sometimes they have to go into a hot environment. 

If they're fighting a fire in an urban area like Indianapolis, Fort Wayne or Evansville, firefighters must thoroughly clean the fire hydrant they use and make sure it is completely dry; otherwise the hydrant could freeze thus rendering it unusable. 

Many fires during the winter times are caused by space heaters or residents heating their home with an oven or stove. Power companies and the state Fire Marshall urge you every year to take precautions when using a space heater, and not to use an over or stove for heat.


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