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Firefighters brave bitter cold to battle fires

ELKHART, Ind. -- A handful of fires, in just the first few days of the new year, forced firefighters to battle the flames in this wicked cold.

ABC57 News, like so many others, questioned how they did this in the bitter temperatures and snowy weather. 

"Everything starts to freeze. You're getting cold. Your fingers hurt," explains Concord Township Deputy Chief Ron Singleton. "The wind chill [at the Cana Cabinetry fire] was actually 20-some below, and most of us had at least half an inch of ice completely over our gear."

That ice, caked over their gear, usually adds about ten extra pounds to their gear.

Their gear, usually weighs around 190 pounds, without that ice weight.

It's those added challenges that Singleton and others, are quite used to.

"All of the water that's sprayed on fires will freeze to our gear, so you get a nice thick layer of ice," he explains. "Our breathing mask and stuff will freeze, so you get a nice thick layer there too."

Ice on both the gear and equipment, makes things a little difficult.

The Concord Township Fire Department was at both the Elkhart County barn fire on January 2, and the Cana Cabinetry business fire on January 3.

"We had people sitting on the ground, on the hoses, that you actually had to help get up, because they were frozen in place," recalls Singleton. 

The trucks and hoses froze, making it challenging for firefighters to get hoses attached, to start watering the fire. 

Singleton says, they had to use torches to warm everything up, in order to get it connected and working.

But it's not just the equipment or gear that takes careful consideration, it's the firefighters too. 

During normal weather, rotations of firefighters are normally 20 minutes long.

But in these conditions, it has to be around ten minutes, to keep everyone safe.

"We rotate guys out more often because we have to worry about frostbite and keeping them warm," says Singleton. "We had a guy at the Cleveland business fire, who got water inside of his boots, who was treated and sent home for frostbite."

It's a major task, to keep those crews warm enough, so that they can move around and do their job. 

And their gear, though it may look icy and cold, actually helps keep them warm.

"Your structural fire fighting gear will have a coating of ice and snow, of course, on the outer shell. But what it's actually doing is helping maintain the body temperature," explains Concord Township Fire Chief Richard Rochford. 

That jacket has several layers of lining, that repel moisture and heat, while staying insulated.

"It has vapor lining that can help firefighters maintain body warmth," adds Rochford.

But what really helps them?

The community.

As Concord Township, and neighboring fire departments worked on those large fires, people came out and brought them hot chocolate, hot soup, and extra socks and gloves to help them, help others. 

"We're going to come out and we're still going to do what we can do, and do the best we can do," says Singleton. 

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