It's never a good time for a house fire, but for firefighters, the coldest time is the worst time.
At a time of year when the number of fires is highest, there are more challenges facing the firefighters.
Many of the problems they face in hot weather are present when it's cold. And, frostbite, frozen gear and hoses, and icy ground all threaten individual firefighters and their ability to fight fires.
"Fighting fire in weather such as we are having presents its own conditions that force us to take extra precautions to protect the personnel as well as be able to effectively perform our duties," City of Warren Operations and Training Officer Joe Beardsley said.
"In the winter, firefighters experience some of the same issues as in the summer," Glade Volunteer Fire Department Chief Michael Noe said. "The firefighters will still get over heated, dehydrated, and exhausted."
"In the summer we get the wet firefighting gear off to cool and rehydrate the person," he said. "Now, in the winter, almost as soon as the firefighter exits the hot environment of the fire area, they freeze up."
"Visible ice starts to form on the turnout gear and any other equipment that they are carrying, sometimes making it almost impossible to remove the equipment from the firefighter," Noe said. "We still need to remove the wet gear, rehydrate, rest the firefighter."
Cycling responders into and out of the hot areas takes more people and more time, usually meaning a greater need for both to extinguish the fire.
"For the firefighters that don't enter the hot fire area, they are battling the effects of the cold - frostbite can develop very quickly," he said. "They get wet, cold, and mobility starts to diminish."
As water spreads around the fire scene, the cold acts on it.
"The work areas around the apparatus start to get very slippery and dangerous to move about, not only for firefighters but the apparatus that are working, driving, and unloading water around the scene," Noe said.
"We take extra precaution to keep hoses and equipment from freezing during operations," Beardsley said.
"We ask the township or PennDOT to put down a salt-cinder mix on the roadways leading to and from the incident," Noe said. "We carry ice melt on every apparatus along with shovels. We have ice cleats for use when walking is difficult or dangerous due to slippery conditions."
There are also steps that firefighters can take to give them a better chance of not suffering the consequences of the weather.
"Some of the things we suggest our personnel do would be to wear layers of clothing, change wet gear as soon as possible, utilize heaters to warm up between assignments, etc.," Beardsley said. "The Warren Fire Department has a couple of heaters for personnel and equipment and we would utilize the County All-Hazards Team heated shelter as well as Youngsville Volunteer Fire Department's rehab trailer."
"In the winter, Glade reminds our firefighters to wear extra clothes and to have an extra set to change into after the incident is over," Noe said. "We try to have extra work gloves and thicker hoods to replace the frozen ones that were removed."
"We set up areas to warm the firefighters to allow for gear removal and to have warmed fluids for rehydration," he said.
Preparation is a key.
"We stress 'Be prepared, drive safely - we can't help if we don't get there - and to think ahead," Noe said. "Try to call for the resources before you need them. Have personnel ready in a staging area to replace those who are now frozen."
Firefighters will do their best, sometimes to their own detriment. Noe stresses that firefighters "watch out for each other. We are not superheroes, we can be hurt or injured, and we can over-tax our bodies without knowing it."