“Ice is our number one enemy:” Cold snap keeps first responders busy

MILWAUKEE -- The cold snap is keeping first responders busy. They have equipment to warm patients up in a hurry -- but it should be a last resort.

Michael Speth

Michael Speth

People walking in downtown Milwaukee on Thursday, January 5th were barley recognizable. The layers may not be pretty, but going outside unprepared is not smart.

Michael Speth remembers how painful it was...

"You gotta dress warm. I froze my feet. I froze my hands, and that is no joke. It tingles, you know,"  said Speth as he waited for the bus.

Frostbite is condition paramedics at Bell Ambulance are familiar with -- along with hypothermia. Their ambulances are stocked with quilts, and warmed IV fluids for patients with cold exposure symptoms.

Bell Ambulance

Bell Ambulance

"We can re-warm them from the inside out, as opposed to just warming them with a blanket from the outside," said BJ Van Engen, Bell Ambulance paramedics supervisor.

Frostbite can occur within minutes when unprotected skin is exposed to very cold temperatures, causing the affected area to appear white or grayish-yellow in color and feel firm or waxy.

Bell Ambulance

Bell Ambulance

But paramedics at Bell Ambulance are most often responding to slips and falls.

"Ice is our number one enemy in winter," said Van Engen.

Paramedics are used to working in extreme temperatures...

"I mentally tell myself it's not that cold," said Van Engen.

Bell Ambulance

Bell Ambulance

They advise limiting your time outdoors. If  you must venture out, keep moving to generate body heat. Additionally, wear appropriate outdoor clothing and ensure that exposed skin is covered, including your fingers, nose and ears.

"I'm bundled up. I've got three pairs of sweats on. I've got two pairs of socks on," said Speth.

Bell Ambulance officials said December 2016 was their busiest month on record.