The call comes in and they move into action, gearing up and climbing onto the trucks that will carry them to the flames.
Area firefighters acknowledge that on a typical day, the job has its challenges. However, the task of extinguishing any blaze can become even more stressful when dealing the frigid temperatures like the ones they faced in recent weeks while battling several local fires – including one that claimed the life of an elderly Bristol woman earlier this month.
“We know going into it that there could be added obstacles. But we still have a job to do and that’s what we focus on. We have to keep moving forward. If, for example, a hydrant is frozen you move on to another one, you bring in water, you do what you have to do,” Bristol fire Chief Tom Dempsey said.
Frozen hoses and icy – or snow-covered roads are also among the factors that can make the job harder.
In just more than two weeks, and during some of the coldest days of this winter season, area firefighters were called out to at least six fully involved structure fires.
“And you worry about your people,” Vienna fire Chief Richard Brannon said. “You have to try to keep them as warm as possible.”
That can be a difficult when their uniforms get wet and the water that lands on their gear or helmets freezes.
“We had some cold firefighters so we were just trying to do what we could to help them stay warm,” Brannon said.
Firefighters said they can typically count on The Red Cross to provide them with coffee and other hot drinks. Additionally, HazMat is often on hand to set up a “warming” or rehabilitation tent for firefighters as was the case in Vienna.
Lordstown Fire Lt. Scott Gearhart explained that once gear gets wet from the mist of the hoses, it can freeze quickly in frigid temperatures.
He said that last week, firefighters at the Lordstown blaze took refuge in running vehicles. Still, many of the firefighters at the scene remarked about the icicles forming on their helmets and clothing. Hours later, several of them gathered at the fire station said they were still cold despite being inside for awhile.
“It was definitely cold out there,” Gearhart said. “There really was no way to avoid that.”
Dempsey, who also works for the Champion Fire Department, said he can relate to the issues firefighters faced in Vienna last week when they arrived at Kleese Excavating and found that the nearest fire hydrant was frozen.
“That’s the same problem we had in Champion on Mahoning Avenue last year when we got to the scene and realized we couldn’t use the hydrant. You just keep going until you get to one that works or you bring the water in,” Dempsey said.
In Vienna, the road leading to one entrance of Kleese was split down the middle by a large yellow hose that extended through the intersection to allow firefighters to access a second fire hydrant when they realized first one, and the one closest to the property, was frozen.
Brannon said crews were able to fight the fire with the second hydrant and with water shuttled to the scene.
Fire officials said they try to rotate firefighters so they can get out of the cold and have a chance to warm up. They said they also steps to try to avoid equipment problems. For example, they leave hoses running to keep them from freezing and they call for more water tankers as needed.
“The thing is you don’t know until you get there, for example, if a fire hydrant is frozen. If it is, sure it could cause a delay. But you have to work around it. You don’t know what might happen. You have obstacles you have to overcome. You can expect that. But there’s still a job to do and that’s getting to the fire and putting it out. You know you might have problems but when you gear up and get on the truck but you’re not focusing on that. You’re focusing on getting where you need to be, getting to the fire and putting it out. You don’t focus on the problems that could come up. You just work through whatever comes up as it comes up. There’s a job to do and we’re there to do it.”
The fire season for 2014 included the Jan. 8 fire that killed 76-year-old Shirley Conley at her home on Housel Craft Road . The next day crews were called out to a second fire in Bristol that destroyed a house on Hyde Oakfield Road N.W.
On Jan. 13, a blaze in Warren ripped through a West Market Street business, Lifetime Muffler & Auto Repair.
Last Wednesday, a house fire on Beechcrest Street N.W. in Warren sent an elderly couple, Richard and Jean Brugler, to the Akron Children’s Hospital Burn Center. On Thursday, fire destroyed a house on Carson Salt Springs Road in Lordstown and a building at Kleese Excavating at the corner of Sodom Hutchings and Warren Sharon roads. Fire crews were also called to the closed BDM Warren Steel Holdings plant, formerly Severstal, along Pine Avenue in Howland after a machine on the property caught fire.