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4 challenges to fighting fire in the snow

Snow can hinder the size-up, hiding dangers and firefighter tools, and requires more effort to effect a fire attack, making rehab a must


When we are working in the snow, remember that we will be exerting extra effort to combat the obstacle that has fallen before us


As we face the winter deep freeze, we are reminded of how cold-weather operations can be strenuous. The firefighters operating in snow in the northern part of the country will certainly attest to this.

The accompanying video shot recently in New York shows exactly what it is like to have to work in the snow, which exacerbated the conditions the firefighters faced fighting this house fire. As much as we enjoy the snow for some recreational purposes, it does add strain to the firefighting operations.

1. Lost firefighter tools, hidden dangers

Snow hides the lay of the land. Usually when we arrive on scene, part of our size-up is to note the lay of the land. Is there a sloping backyard or a drop in the rear for a walk out? Snow on the ground hides all that detail from us. As we traverse the site, we can’t see or identify all the ground hazards, such as holes, depressions, ditches and whatever else could be present. We are also in danger of injury from items left lying on the ground and buried by the snow.

It also hides our tools and hose lines. In the early moments of the response, when deploying our equipment, snow can hide the hose line or the tools that we are using if we place them down on the ground. So be careful where you place your tools when you are not using them.

2. Slower response can allow fire to grow

Snow is also challenging to walk around and through with firefighter gear and tools. Depending upon the depth of the snow, the mobility of the firefighter is greatly reduced. As you can see in the video, as the crews are advancing lines and walking around the structure, they are slowed down by the snow. Slowing down our actions allows the fire to grow as it wants to.

3. Snow weighs down, hinders equipment

Snow hinders the equipment needed to be moved or deployed. As the crews try to advance a hose line to initiate suppression, the snow is being advanced along with the hose line, slowing down the progress. Snow does have water weight to it and when it clumps to our equipment, it weighs it down. It also adds friction to moving objects like the hose line. When we are moving equipment like PPV fans, we must drag them or carry them so that they are not tracking all the snow in their path along with them.

4. Increased need for firefighter rehab

The fatigue factor of walking through snow also means firefighters will need quicker respond to rehab times. When we are working in the snow, remember that we will be exerting extra effort to combat the obstacle that has fallen before us.

Working in the snow is not an easy task and thankfully it only happens for a few months of the year.

Editor’s Note: Now that you’ve read about cold-weather challenges, check out these tips for mananging cold-weather firefighting.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.

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