Day 36 & 37: Frozen in Week Nine

January 4 and 5, 2010 (Day 36 and 37): We returned from a 3 day Holiday weekend, and stepped into the frozen, icy world of Week Nine. Daytime high temperatures were predicted in the single digits, and we had live fire training scheduled...

The cold weather really hit us today, as hoses and couplings iced up on each of the “attacks” on the burn building. We managed to go through the evolution 3 times before the equipment was so frozen solid that we could no longer continue the exercise. It was cold, but extremely valuable training, and it prepared us well for the actual live burn scenarios scheduled for Wednesday.v

I finished the Roof Chop as the last station of the day. My air mask had frozen up during the afternoon’s live hose training, and I could not exhale through the mask (frozen exhalation valve); I was instructed to make the practice run without my air mask on. My gloves were frozen and it was hard to grip the axe. My feet felt like blocks of wood as I climbed the ladder to the roof and moved out onto the roof ladder. The roof ladder lays flat on the roof, and has 2 hooks on the end that hook over the peak of the roof. The rungs of the ladder provide a vertical foothold about 1 ½ inches high. On our roof prop, there are several 2 x 4 inch boards that also provide slight footholds about 1 ½ inches high. That’s all there is to brace my feet against, and I can tell you that it was really scary to let go of the ladder with my hands, brace myself against the roof with just toes and one knee, and swing the axe for the chopping actions – I felt unbalanced and uncomfortable – I was distinctly aware of the 20 feet separating me from the frozen concrete of the drill tower pad!

Although I have been on roofs many times and have no fear of heights, I had never chopped a hole in a roof with an axe during the middle of an ice age! :) Reaching out to the far corners of the area I was chopping was the worst – I was painfully aware of how easy it would be to tumble off the roof! I finished chopping the 4 foot by 4 foot hole in 2 ½ minutes – easily meeting the 4 minute maximum time limit. I was all too glad to get back on terra firma and head inside at the end of the day!

I have been asking visiting fire crews and instructors about their suggestions for keeping feet warm on the winter firegrounds. I have been at a number of winter fires, and never can keep my feet warm. The most frequently repeated suggestion from other firefighters I’ve spoken to is, “Just keep moving.” Easily said, but there is a lot of standing around and waiting on the training ground. I’ll keep looking for the elusive answer. Wiggling toes and wearing several pairs of socks seem to provide some relief, but it’s still miserable standing outside for several hours with wooden feet! I remember being on scene at a 2 alarm fire last winter with one of our talented District Fire Chiefs, “Spat” Ryan. It was 12 degrees below zero, he was wearing only black oxford shoes on his feet, and he was outside for several hours. Suffering with frozen feet, I asked him how he could stand it.....He said he was used to it after years of playing hockey! YIKES!

A warm up is coming next week, but we have a couple of cold days left to go before things warm up during the promised “January thaw.”

‘Til then, STAY WARM, and thanks for joining me “On Scene” at the Fire Academy’s icy Week Nine!