Community Education Tips for Winter Weather

By Tom Kiurski  

Firefighters in Florida can probably pass on this article. But for those who deal with cold and snow regularly, departments can play a lead role in keeping hypothermia at bay in their communities. Hypothermia is a term used for a drop in the body's core temperature to below 95 F (from the normal 98.6 F). This small change can lead to serious problems.

Department members should use any community speaking opportunity they have at the moment to educate their districts about cold-weather emergencies. And don't forget to utilize local media. Newspapers are often crying out for content during the holiday season, so most will be receptive to running any articles you are able to put together on the subject.

Whichever option you choose, you should start by telling your audience to remember to dress for the cold temperatures. Hats are superior to headbands and earmuffs — one-third to one-half of the body's heat is lost through the head. Another simple piece of advice is to wear waterproof gloves or mittens to help keep your hands and fingers warm. If made of similar material, mittens are preferable as they allow heat from the palms of the hand to reach the fingers.

Layers of clothing are preferable to one thick sweater under a coat, as the layers trap warm air. Using synthetic or synthetic-wool undergarments and socks are preferable, as they wick moisture away from the skin. Water and perspiration conduct heat away from the body 25 times faster than air.

Also advise your audience to warn their families about the dangers of cold-weather exposure. Discuss the medical conditions known as frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia.

What to advise
Frostnip is the beginning stage of frostbite, and is completely reversible if rapid rewarming takes place. The person who has pale, mottled skin with a pins-and-needles sensation in the extremities is experiencing frostnip. They need to get inside and get warmed up by the fireplace, space heater or warm bath and remove any wet clothes as soon as possible.

Frostbite displays as white, yellow or pale-grey spots on extremities, accompanied by numbness and/or sharp aching pains. In this prolonged exposure, tiny ice crystals start to form in skin tissue. Getting inside and out of wet clothes is important for helping the person experiencing frostbite. They should avoid rubbing skin or applying heating pads but warm up near a fire, space heater or in a warm bath. If the skin does not start to look normal within 30 minutes, you should advise them that they seek medical treatment.

In persons who are exposed to cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time, they will exhibit signs of confusion, memory loss, slurred speech and a loss of coordination. In this case, hypothermia will be the likely cause. They need to get inside and seek medical treatment, being wrapped up in warm blankets until medical help is available.

You should also suggest that your audience keep some warm clothing in the trunk of their car in case of a breakdown. Many of us head out with minimal clothing on, assuming we will be outside "just for a minute." In addition, a cell phone with a charged battery is a necessity for any breakdowns that may occur.

As the temperatures drop, citizen awareness of safety must rise up to meet the challenge. While some great times can be had in the cold activities of winter, you should use your position in the community to advise that common sense be the rule of the day.

About the author

Tom Kiurski has been in the fire service since 1981. He is the Training Coordinator and Director of Fire Safety Education for Livonia, Mich., Fire & Rescue. He has served as a firefighter/paramedic, engineer and lieutenant prior to his appointment as the training coordinator. He has earned an Associates Degree in Fire Science from Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich., a Bachelors Degree in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology from the University of Cincinnati and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Eastern Michigan University. Tom teaches fire service-related courses at local colleges and fire academies. He has presented at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis seven times, as well as numerous state and local conferences. He has written more than 300 articles on fire safety education and training that have appeared in various fire service publications. Contact Tom at

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