Extremely Cold Temperatures Make Fighting Fires Even More Challenging

DES MOINES, Iowa -- While many of us are able to stay inside during extremely cold weather, fire crews and other first responders unfortunately don't have a choice. The frigid temperatures can make their jobs even more difficult.

Des Moines firefighters were doing everything they could to stay warm while fighting a house fire on 36th Street on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning during the lowest temperatures the state has seen in years.

A neighbor who saw the fire said she saw flames coming from all directions of the house.

“It was very cold and you could see the fire coming out of the roof,” neighbor Paula Maxheim said. “And the chainsaws were going. They must have been trying to cut into the roof and the firefighters were desperately cold.”

Des Moines Fire Lieutenant Chris Clement said they even called in DART buses to keep about 25 firefighters rotating in and out of the elements.

“Those air packs that they were wearing were literally frozen to them last night. It was 20 below zero so they had to go into the bus to warm up or into the back of one of our ambulances to actually get their air packs off,” Clement said.

The extreme cold is tough on the firefighters, their trucks and equipment, making the fire even harder to put out.

“If a hose line is just laying on the ground, you may see where we just crack that hose line open just a bit to keep water circulating,” said West Des Moines Fire Marshall Mike Whitsell. “While that water is keeping the hose and truck from freezing up, that water is now freezing on the ground.”

To make the ground easier to walk on, they carry sand and salt on the fire trucks and sometimes have to call public works to bring in more.

“We have safety officers that will function at a scene, that will look for those things that maybe not every firefighter is looking for at that particular time,” Whitsell said

Now that the fire is out, investigators have to wait until all of the ice encasing the house melts before they can find out what exactly caused the blaze.

“Not only does it make it treacherous to move around, but also with things being coated with ice, it makes structural supports heavier,” Clement said. “So now you’re worried about the roof collapsing and the walls coming in not only because they've been breached by fire, but also because they have that ice load hanging on them and it makes the investigation more dangerous.”

No one was injured in the fire and the people who lived in the house have been temporarily relocated.

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