Firefighters battle in extreme temps

Two snowmen in Whitnall Park seemed for bethe only people out in the bitter cold on Jan. 7.

Two snowmen in Whitnall Park seemed for bethe only people out in the bitter cold on Jan. 7. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Jan. 7, 2014

With a polar vortex causing temperatures to dip well below zero, local fire departments responded to two fires in Oak Creek on Monday.

The first fire, which started in an attached garage in the 1100 block of East Randy Road, sent not only the Oak Creek Fire Department scrambling, but the Streets Department and fire departments from Franklin and Cudahy.

As they fought the blaze, Oak Creek Fire Chief Thomas Rosandich said, firefighters saw a plume of smoke in the 1300 block of East Connie Lane, sending crews to their second fire of the day.

Crews were out in the cold from 3:40 to after 6 p.m.

The hose water turned to ice within minutes, but no one was injured in either fire.

On his crew's response, Rosandich said, "I guess you call it the 'can do' attitude. From the young people to the old veterans, they rose to the occasion and there was a lot of help from the mutual aid companies. We've been in their cities below zero and they've been in ours, so it's an all-around team effort."

Keeping his crews hydrated and energized was of utmost importance, he added. Other safety concerns involved making sure the building didn't take too much weight from the frozen water, leading to a collapse, and making sure the homeowners were staying warm.

The Streets Department was on scene to spread extra salt over the water spilling into the streets.

Residents heed warning

The extreme temperatures caused most local residents to lay low, Oak Creek Police Lt. David Ashenhurst said.

The National Weather Service issued a Wind Chill Warning late last week, estimating temperatures to drop between 35 to 40 degrees below zero throughout the state.

The streets were quiet as not many people were out and about, he said. While police had to respond to a car stuck in the ditch on Monday morning, the weather didn't cause an inordinate number of accidents.

"It has been business as usual," Franklin Police Capt. Joe Spak agreed. "We're very fortunate that we haven't had anything out of the ordinary."

Despite a few traffic accidents and broken sprinkler pipes on Monday, the Franklin Fire Department also continued on as usual, Battalion Chief Kurt Stueck said.

The cold weather, however, does, play a factor in emergency response, he added.

"It changes some of our priorities," Stueck said. "We want to get (injured persons) out of the cold as soon as possible."

Tending to water mains

It may seem counter-intuitive, but winter is one of the slowest times for water main breaks for Oak Creek, Michael Sullivan, director of the Oak Creek Water and Sewer Utility, said. July is the highest month for breaks due to the high demand for water.

The city's water lines, he added, are buried deep enough to not be heavily impacted by the frosty conditions. His worker's safety, and how they deal with a break in the line, are what make the difference between summer and winter.

If there is a break, workers will get wet. To ensure no ground water or contaminants seep into the pipes, the water must be flowing non-stop while workers clamp the break. Although equipped with rain and winter gear, an extra worker will be assigned to help seal the break. The routine is to rotate the workers inside and outside, drying and warming them between work.

Another safety concern for Sullivan in the event of a winter water break is keeping the streets dry. Salt trucks from the streets department will be called over for extra duty, much like their response to fires.

Franklin stayed on top of its water lines as well.

"We try to keep on top of things," said Mike Roberts, superintendent of the Water and Sewer Department. "We try to be proactive and plan ahead for this."

By keeping a close eye on water levels, the department can ensure things run smoothly – even under freezing conditions, he said.

The Public Works Department didn't have much trouble with the freezing temperatures either, Franklin DPW Superintendent Jerry Schaefer said.

"We're doing fine," Schaefer said. "If anything, the biggest issue is the wind and blowing snow. We're continually clearing the roads … (because) you could clear one area and go back to it an hour or two later and it'd be as bad as it was before."

Greendale fares well

The village of Greendale was cold and quiet on Monday — a good indicator of the safety of residents.

The Greendale School District, as well as many other districts in the area, closed its schools for both Monday and Tuesday due to concerns about the cold.

Fortunately, the village was relatively quiet, Fire Chief Tim Saidler said.

"We have no weather-related incidents at all," Saidler said Monday. "No accidents, no nothing."

"Service is business as usual," said Village Manager Todd Michaels, noting that collection for trash and recyclables remained on schedule.

"The only (unusual) thing you notice is that there are a lot less people outside, less foot traffic," Michaels said.

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