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Firefighters Face Challenges in Frigid Conditions

Emergency crews can't pick the weather when responding to calls, but when it's this cold outside, they feel the effects of the elements rather quickly.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) When it began, it was snow - not freezing rain, not sleet, it was too cold for that.

Wednesday's winter storm was all snow, and St. Joseph city crews were out plowing and salting right away.

Assistant Superintendent of Streets Keven Schneider says he likes it better when there's no ice.

"It's safer driving for our crews and for the public," he said.  "That's the big thing right there.  It's easier to melt usually.  With the temperatures we're having, it'll be tough to melt this snow when it's this cold.  It can be done but if you have ice under there it makes it so much harder to melt"

And the day after that snow, the sun remained, which can help the melting process on the main roads, like Frederick Boulevard.

Despite the sunshine, temperatures are much colder than normal.

This can cause problems for a number of city services, including the St. Joseph Fire Department.

"We're throwing water, which is kind of the enemy of cold weather," said Fire Captain Jamey McVicker.  "So it's colder, I move slower.  With the snow plows pushing snow off the street, the hydrants get covered.  When they're covered it delays our response time and our ability to perform our tactics."

Mcvicker says firefighters' bodies are more vulnerable to the elements when it's cold.

And the colder it is, the faster they feel those effects.

"Once you're throwing water and you get wet - our gear is better than it used to be, it's more waterproof - that water freezes you," McVicker said.  "It freezes on your coat so you're stiff, you're cracking and popping.  Your body doesn't want to work.  You're more susceptible to injury because your muscles are cold.  The best place to be is next to the fire."

When roads are slick even fire trucks drive slower, but those with the department say homeowners can help save some time.

"What helps us out tremendously is not just for fires but for emergency medical response," McVicker said, acknowledging that most of their calls are EMS calls and not fires.  "If the sidewalks are shoveled, it helps us be more safe getting the patient out.  It increases our time on giving better service.  For fire specifically, all it does is complicate the whole situation if nothing's been shoveled.  If the fire hydrants haven't been cleared, it just mitigates our response to that emergency."

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