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Frigid winter causing serious problems for firefighters

By Liz Kilmer, Reporter, LKilmer@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 29 2014 04:33:24 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 29 2014 05:58:48 PM CST

Firefighters across Berks County aren't just battling blazes this winter, but also the harsh cold.

LOWER ALSACE TWP., Pa. -

Firefighters across Berks County aren't just battling blazes this winter, but also the harsh cold.

"We're all suffering through this," said Rick Gerhart, fire marshal in Lower Alsace Township.

"[It's] worse than most winters," said Asst. Chief Art Heist, Amity Fire Co. "The cold itself… it does take a toll."

Officials told 69 News that the biting temperatures are causing a number of challenges, from travel dangers on slick or snowy roads, to on-scene hazards like slipping or freezing.

"When a firefighter gets cold and his gear gets wet, the firefighter cannot function," said Gerhart.

Gerhart said the cold temperatures require extra fire crews on-scene.

"So [firefighters] can rotate in and out of the burning building, have fresh firefighters there to take the place of ones that are cold or exhausted," said Gerhart.

Heist agreed, explaining that extra hands are needed to lay salt on icy scenes and assist with problems like frozen fire hydrants.

"You don't know if a hydrant's going to go down," said Heist.

Dealing with frozen hydrants is a problem Gerhart's crews have faced as well this season. He said all trucks are now equipped with a hammer and torch to remove frozen caps, a recommendation coming from the Mount Penn Water Authority.

"It does slow us up," said Gerhart. "But most of our trucks are carrying a lot of water anyway and that does give us a little bit of time."

Fortunately, Gerhart said crews have not run low on water supply - good news, amidst a series of challenges.

"It's tricky," said Gerhart. "But that's what we're supposed to do and that's what we do."