Cold, snow present challenges for firefighters - how you can help

The last few weeks have been a combination of dangerous cold and heavy snow. Outside in the mix of it all have been firefighters and paramedics battling the elements on top of responding to an emergency. It makes the job all the more difficult, but there are ways every resident can help.

In Maplewood, firefighters have responded to the usual calls, but there are also some calls only the recent cold weather could spark.

“We’ve had people try to warm up their cars with unconventional methods, which has started a couple of cars on fire,” said Eric Kubat, Maplewood firefighter. “Charcoal grills under cars are not a good idea starting fires under your car. Not a good idea.

Kubat says the cold can bring on calls like that, but the weather can also make the response more difficult.

“Equipment that kind of freezes up or slows down with the weather, hose lines that freeze up, if we have a fire we have to keep them cracked or they’ll freeze up on us,” he said.

It takes some planning to work around Minnesota’s winters. Maplewood Fire Chief Steve Lukin makes sure his crews have the right equipment in the field. He compares it to a heavy snowmobile suit. The crews also talk about the weather at the beginning of each shift and make sure everyone is aware of the conditions.

“It’s just the situation that we have and our public safety as a whole we have to go out, we have to do these things and so we understand there are dangers with them we make sure to wear the proper equipment and keep safety in the back of our minds,” said Chief Lukin.

While cold and ice continue to be on their radar, this week’s storm put snow in the mix, too. In neighborhoods, the snow may be cleared off the roads, but it’s piling up along the side of the road. That can be an issue when those snow piles cover fire hydrants. 

“The most important reason we need those hydrants cleared out is it helps us get to them quicker number one,” said Chief Lukin. “But it also gives us the opportunity with a lot of snow piled up on them is they melt and the snow goes back and those threads that give the connections freeze up and it becomes difficult to open as well.”

Chief Lukin says they recently put out a call to their community asking for a helping hand in these tough conditions.

“That’s why we rely on the neighbors and rely on folks who have hydrants in their yard to just help us out and that is why we are asking Maplewood to adopt a hydrant and shovel it out,” he said.

As for who is responsible to keep hydrants clear of snow, it varies by city. However, in Maplewood, no one has direct responsibility. Firefighters will do it in their down time, and public works will help out too, but that’s the department depends on the community for help.

Fire officials say shoveling your driveway is also helpful, so that responders can have quick access to your home in case of an emergency.