Home Opinion Winter Operations, Part II: Equipment & Adjustments

Winter Operations, Part II: Equipment & Adjustments


Fighting fires in cold weather

Last time, we discussed how to take care of ourselves in the cold, and the effect of cold, wind, and water on our health. Now let's talk about taking care of the equipment we respond with and use at fire scenes and how we adjust our operations to adjust for the cold.

Preparation of equipment

The firefighting profession has a plethora of equipment that is brought to the scene, but some of the most important are the pumping apparatus. Until we develop a strategy and tactic that does not rely on water, this will continue to be our most important piece.

However, water and cold weather do not go together very well. As we can remember from physics class, the larger the volume of water, the longer the freezing takes to occur. 

This becomes important as we think about all of the places the water will reside from the distribution system to the end of the hose nozzle. The tank of water in a truck will not freeze on most days, but the small amount of water in the intake and discharge caps will freeze quickly. 

Many of my mentor engineers would remove all of the caps when the temperature dipped below 30 degrees, claiming, the cap cannot be frozen in place if it is not present.


Our operations will be delayed and less safe during cold weather from increased strains and sprains due to the cold muscles of our firefighters, to the ice created by firefighting that can increase slip and fall hazards.

Two ways to decrease these issues are to increase the manpower responding to a call and increasing the lighting at night. In addition to carrying salt, recognizing the ice is paramount to preventing falls. 

Once we send large amounts of manpower, we must rehabilitate our responders through providing warm locations. Some ideas are ambulances or busses from the local schools or transit authority.

The cold is arriving, how will you adjust your operations to accommodate its arrival?

See also: Part I

Randall Hanifen Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.