Local News

Firefighters battle flames, ice

Posted January 3, 2010 9:30 a.m. EST
Updated January 4, 2010 7:35 a.m. EST

— On days when temperatures barely break the freezing mark and the wind chills the air even more, firefighters have to contend with both heat and cold to save lives and property.

"The cold affects how the firefighters are able to do their job," said Rob Johnson, a division chief with the Raleigh Fire Department.

That was case when crews were called out to a large house fire at 5532 Bridford Place, near Leesville Road, at 8:16 a.m.

It took 30 firefighters close to an hour and a half to bring it under control. Temperatures in the low 20s froze the water even as it was pumped onto flames that spread from the garage to the roof.

"You've got the ice. You're slipping and sliding. The water is cold," described Capt. Ken Bailey.

Ice formed on everything from the ground to the firefighter's equipment – even their hats.

"The heat kind of keeps it melted off, but coming back off with all the water. The water sprays everything and freezes up," Bailey said.

A salt truck was on standby in case the road started to ice over.

Slippery surfaces and uncomfortable uniforms weren't the only dangers that the cold created. Firefighters also had to watch out for their health.

"Obviously, hypothermia is a huge concern for these firefighters," paramedic Donovan Welsh said. "As they are coming out, ice accumulates real quick on them."

Paramedics monitored firefighters' heart rates and blood pressure. There was plenty of hot coffee to keep them warm and water to keep them hydrated.

Firefighters said it's worth the difficulties to protect people and their homes.

"We love to do our job, but it is very cold, and it is a challenge," Johnson said.

In the fire on Bridford Place, no one was injured, but 60 percent of the house was damaged, making it uninhabitable.  Fire investigators determined the cause of the fire was electrical. A relative said the family was away on a camping trip in South Carolina at the time.

"You come out and give 110 percent and do what you have to do to save people's lives and property," Bailey said.