Extreme Cold Weather Challenges Firefighters in Midwest

Chicago fire truck in the cold

Extraordinarily cold temperatures battered much of the Midwest this week, forcing school closures in Chicago and complicating operations for firefighters in the region. The cold is attributed to a Polar Vortex, a weather phenomenon that results in dangerously low temperatures sweeping through the area.

ABC reported that temperatures at Chicago O’Hare were at -20 degrees with wind chills of -49 Wednesday morning, prompting Metra rail authority crews to use fire to warm the metal rails.

In Des Moines, Iowa, fire crews worked in shifts to deal with freezing temperatures while battling a house fire overnight, as noted by WHOtv.com. Frozen water can cause soaked gear and hoses to freeze, as well as create slippery conditions on the fireground.

And Racine (WI) Fire Department officials warned about potential vehicle fires, which the department says have become more prevalent despite the cold and snow. Fire Prevention Division Chief Jeff Perkins told the Journal Times that drivers may be flooring the gas pedal to get their cars out of ruts, causing their vehicle’s engine to heat up rapidly. They then may shut the vehicle off immediately, potentially setting up the possibility of ignition.

Fire photographer Tim Olk shared some images of Chicago firefighters working in the subzero temperatures and dealing with frozen hydrants, among other challenges. During a structure fire response on the city’s South Side, companies required the held of a steam truck from the water department to warm up two frozen hydrants. See photos from two jobs courtesy of Tim Olk HERE.

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