‘Everything freezes up:’ Dangerous cold creates challenges for first responders, equipment

MILWAUKEE -- The bitter cold created challenges for first responders Wednesday, Jan. 30. It was so cold, the pumps used to put water on fires were freezing up.

"Everything freezes up," said Michael Cieciwa, Milwaukee Fire Department battalion chief.

Even the industrial strength antifreeze applied to each truck's pumps and valves wasn't strong enough.

"As we use the equipment, we can't prevent the freezing from happening almost instantaneously," said Cieciwa.

The Milwaukee Fire Department sent extra trucks to every call; swapping frozen lines for new ones. Iced-over engines were sent back to the station and into a heated garage, where crews took unusual measures to get them back out on the road.

"I was just at a fire house. They have a gas grill next to the pump and they were using a hand torch to thaw it out," said Cieciwa.

Those at Milwaukee Fire Department Station 13 anticipated responding to 25 or 30 calls on Wednesday -- most of them fires.

Cieciwa said EMS calls were down, with people taking the wind chill warning in effect for all of southeast Wisconsin through noon Thursday seriously -- and staying inside.

Aronica Williams

"Don't take any of this for granted," said Dr. Aronica Williams, chief medical officer at Milwaukee Health Services.

Milwaukee Health Services officials were busy taking calls from patients who picked up a bug.

"We've been able to give clear and concise information and instructions to help patients feel better in such cold weather," said Dr. Williams.

Staying hydrated would help patients recover, but for firefighters, water only added an extra challenge to an already difficult job.

Milwaukee Health Services

Michael Cieciwa

"It's miserable. Absolutely miserable," said Cieciwa.

Fire hydrants can also freeze in the extreme cold. When that happens, crews have to find a flowing hydrant and lay hoses to the fire. They can freeze too.

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