Winter Operations for Emergency Vehicles

This article will focus on some of these hazards and prevention methods to insure safe operation of fire apparatus.


If the apparatus has been equipped with automatic chains, refer to the manufacturer's recommendations for maintenance and inspection. Make any necessary adjustments or repairs, and check for proper operation.

Wiper Blades And Washer Fluid
In terms of windshield wiper requirements, there is a huge difference between moving rain water during a spring shower and removing slush and road spray from a salt covered highway. Inspect the wiper blades to insure that they are in good condition and make full contact with the windshield. If there is any indication of inadequacy, the blades should be replaced. In selecting a replacement blade, give consideration to the typical winter conditions in your area. If you operate in areas with routinely severe winter conditions, there are some wiper blade manufacturers that make a winter blade assembly that have a protective cover over the blade arm to prevent ice build-up. There are also blades with multiple edges that may provide additional scraping power. Select a blade that matches your apparatus requirements and the needs required by your weather environment.

You should also routinely check the windshield washer reservoir to make certain that it is full and contains washer anti-freeze to prevent icing and aid in clearing the glass. When adding windshield washer anti-freeze, always pump some of the new anti-freeze through the system to displace any water or weak antifreeze in the pump, tubing or nozzles.

Pumps
To prevent water from freezing in fire pumps, there are a number of steps that can be taken. The first is to simply insure that the heating system in the building where the apparatus is housed is working properly. This is particularly important in regions of the country that normally don't experience below-freezing temperatures. A heating system that isn't regularly used or maintained can fail during a period of unusually cold temperatures.

Unless it is extremely cold, pumps rarely freeze up during response. However when the apparatus is stopped outside, freezing can occur rather quickly. One good method of protection is to simply circulate water between the pump and tank while the apparatus is parked or not actively pumping water.

If it is extremely cold and/or the station housing the vehicle can't be adequately heated, draining the pump and leaving the drain valve open while in the station will prevent damage to the pump. However, if this method is used, pump operators need to be aware of this so they will not experience any delay in priming the pump if it is needed for fire suppression. These draining procedures may be followed to protect intake and discharge piping as well.

Leaks
Even the best fire apparatus leaks water occasionally. Loose packing, a drain valve that won't seat properly, a worn tank valve -- all will permit leakage. Most of the time this isn't a major problem -- that is, until the temperature drops below freezing. Then even minimal drip rates can lead to significant mishaps. That gallon of water that dripped onto the roadway while you were investigating a false alarm could freeze and just be slippery enough to cause an unsuspecting motorist to lose control and crash. Or, it could cause a pedestrian or cyclist to slip and fall. As the leaks get larger, so does the potential for injury or damage. Routinely look for leaks and have them promptly repaired.

Slip Prevention
To help prevent slips and falls around apparatus at operations during freezing temperatures, a mixture of dry sand and either rock salt or calcium chloride should be carried on apparatus or readily available on service vehicles. This may also be used to eliminate slippery road conditions after you mop up, to prevent a traffic hazard due to water leakage on the cartway, or to protect pedestrians from slipping and falling on sidewalks.

Firefighting operations during the winter months offer some significant challenges. A little forethought and preventive planning can help reduce or eliminate some of these challenges. A quick review of these key points can prevent your organization from being placed in a hazardous situation as well as avert conditions that could damage your apparatus or cause injury to your personnel and the public at large.