Portland firefighters prepare for cold weather challenges

The cold weather could slow response times

Cold weather can slow response times for firefighters due to icy roads. January 2, 2017, (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – With overnight low temperatures in the metro expected to remain in the mid-to-low 20s, and even colder in rural areas, local firefighters are preparing for potentially slower than normal response times.

The cold weather could slow response times because crews maybe dealing with snowy and icy roads, according to Portland Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Kristine Artman.

After December’s snow events in the metro, many of the fire crews are well prepared for chaining up firetrucks.

On each fire, there are crews who are assigned “RIT,” which means rapid intervention team. Those firefighters are used to respond to anyone in distress. The on-scene safety commander will also be monitoring firefighters’ well-being while out in the cold.

“Hypothermia can set in,” Artman said.

Another potential challenge firefighters may run into during the cold weather is smoke inversions.

“The cold weather can make the smoke invent, so the smoke stays low to the ground and it makes it difficult to see,” Artman said.

A good example of an inversion is when Mt. Hood’s summit is clear, but its base, including ski resorts, is cloudy.

When the weather gets extremely cold, some fire agencies have to deal with water freezing.

“That doesn’t often happen in Portland, but in colder states their water supply can freeze, and that puts firefighters in even more danger,” Artman said.

Crews said what’s more likely to happen in Portland, is roads around a fire scene may become very icy because of water runoff.

To keep firefighters at the top of their game, the fire bureau will likely be relying on its “fire rehab units.”

Those crews will bring out hot water, food, blankets, heaters and other items to keep firefighters “warm so they can keep working.”