Indy firefighters battle fire, ice in sub-zero temperatures

(Provided Photo/Wayne Township Fire Department)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis area firefighters are bringing in extra personnel and equipment to fight fires in sub-zero temperatures.

Captain Mike Pruitt with Wayne Township Fire Department says when temperatures get into the 10 degree range and begins dropping to zero, things start breaking.

In the last 48 hours, Wayne Township firefighters have battled flames in a warehouse, a shed, homes, and businesses. While not all of them are directly connected to the cold, like the misuse of portable heaters for example, Pruitt says the cold certainly complicates every fire they respond to.

“During this cold period we’re staffing a tactical support unit around the clock, has all the thawing equipment on it,” he said. “If we come across a frozen hydrant, the tactical support operator, they’re going to grab that torch and apply heat to the hydrant and get it opened up,” he said, turning on a propane tank attached to a long hose and torch that a firefighter would stick down the barrel of a hydrant.

“If we have a lot of hose down on the ground during a fire during these temps, it’s like picking up lead pipe if it does freeze,” said Pruitt. “Many times we’ll have to bring in a flatbed truck and literally load the hose, fold it over best we can, load it up on the truck and haul it back to the fire house, lay it out, get it warmed up and drained out so we can put it back on the fire engine.”

In those cases, Pruitt says they’re ready with a backup truck so they can keep fighting the fire while they thaw their gear. He also explained the uses of two large salamander heaters on the truck, sometimes called “torpedo furnaces”, that run off kerosene fuel.

“We’ll fire these up, even if we need to heat personnel up on the scene,” Pruitt said. “We’ll fire these up and get some warming ability out on a fire.”

Finally, Captain Pruitt patted the top of a large tub of kitty litter.

“Kitty litter is great for footing because once we start spraying water, it turns it unto a giant ice rink and on many occasions we’ve had firefighters slip and fall on the ice and get injured,” he said.

Fire departments and their tactical support units need to be equipped with extra gear for firefighting staff as well.

“I noticed this last night as the firefighters were coming out of the warehouse fire that the sprinkler systems had basically soaked them as they were inside fighting the fire,” Pruitt said. “As they were coming out you could see their fire gear just starting to glisten and become solid and then we had some of our breathing apparatus was starting to have issues.”

To prove it, Captain Pruitt doused a firefighter’s jacket with water and set it outside the fire station. Within 5 minutes, the pockets were lined with icicles and the fabric crunched when moved.

“It’s pretty close right now being able to stand up on its own,” Pruitt pointed out.

He also said this week he’s seen residents try to warm up their cars inside their garage, which is a toxic idea. He says even if you open your garage door while heating up your car, odorless carbon monoxide can seep into your home and poison your entire family. Pruitt says his team is prepared to keep the public safe regardless of the weather, but asks the the public do their part to prevent disasters from happening.