Ask an Official: MFD discusses fire fighting in bitter cold conditions
This week’s featured question was submitted for the Merrill Fire Department
The question reads:
“Is it true a fire is easier to fight in bitter cold sub-zero temperatures than in warm or hot weather due to lack of oxygen in the air to feed the fire?”
Answer given MFD Administrative Battalion Chief Mike Drury
“According to NFPA 271 (National Fire Protection Association) Standard, Method of Test for Heat and Visible Smoke Release Rates for Materials and Products Using an Oxygen Consumption Calorimeter, there is no difference. The outside/inside oxygen percentage is around 21 percent before the ignition occurs. Once ignition occurs other factors such as materials burning, rate of combustion and oxygen consumption come into play. The NFPA Standard is similar to the test method contained in ASTM E 1354 (American Society of Testing and Materials), standard test method for heat and visible smoke release rates for materials and products using an oxygen consumption calorimeter. According to these two testing standards the outside temperatures are insignificant prior to ignition.
“However the sub-zero bitter cold temperatures does affect the tactics and equipment that are used to fight a fire.
“In the winter, fire hydrants are harder to locate in the snow and not having to dig them out prior to hooking hoses to them saves valuable time when flowing water into the fire engine. Incidents which require flowing water to fight a fire outside of the hydrant area (city limits of Merrill) means we need to find an alternate water supply. Fire fighters are sent to pre-determined locations to set up a water site, which means these locations are frozen ponds, lakes, streams, etc.
“An ice auger is then used to drill a hole, a tube is then put down the hole which is connected to a portable pump and then the water is sucked up through the pump, then through a hose to fill a Tender Truck parked on the road. Once the Tender is full (around 3,000 gallons) it returns to the location of the fire and dumps the water into a portable tank which also holds 3,000 gallons of water.
“This portable tank is positioned next to the fire engine so the engine using a suction hose can pull water into the engine and then out the hoses. The shuttling of water with the Tenders is conducted by multiple Tenders from mutual aid fire departments. The sub-zero temperatures also has an effect on our equipment. We need to continually flow water through our hoses and nozzles.
If the flow is turned off, the water in them freezes in a very short time and will not work until they are thawed out. The protective gear that fire fighters wear also is affected by sub-zero temperatures. When fighting a fire or setting up a water site, water gets sprayed on our gear. The water freezes very quickly forming an icy hard cast, compromising the mobility of our extremities. In closing, fighting fires in sub-zero temperatures creates more difficulties than under normal conditions.”
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