Extreme Maryland cold hampers firefighters in Baltimore

BALTIMORE - Icicles befitting a holiday post card serve as evidence of the thousands of gallons of water used to douse the fire in the historic Roland Park neighborhood in Baltimore on one of the coldest nights of the year.

"This particular fire had a lot of challenges," Lt. Matt DuBois, of the Baltimore Fire Department, said.

Read:  Firefighters battle three-alarm Roland Park house fire

DuBois said the extreme cold made fighting the three-alarm house fire even more difficult.

"The biggest problem is just everything icing up," DuBois said. "You know it makes a dangerous work surface.  Our guys are slipping all over the place, hoses are freezing.  Everything's freezing---tools are freezing, ladders are freezing.  We extend a ladder up and it'll freeze up and then we have to pull it down fully extended and try to thaw it out that way."

During the fire on St. Georges Road, two hydrants froze forcing the firefighters to draw water from other sources.

The bitter cold also caused water to freeze in pumper trucks and in the hoses themselves within minutes of shutting them off.

"When the hoses are frozen a lot of times we'll use propane torches or flares or if you can break it down a little bit, drag it over by the exhaust and heat the coupling with the exhaust [to] break them down more," DuBois said.

In addition to the equipment, the freezing conditions pose obvious risks to the firefighters, such as hypothermia and frostbite as they work the thin line between the intense heat of a fire and the extreme cold that surrounds it.

"As soon as you step back a few feet, you're exposed to the cold again and now you're hot and sweaty and soaking wet from all the water that you're throwing," DuBois said. "So add that on top of the freezing temperatures and you start to get cold emergencies."

In addition to losing body heat, water pressure and their footing, when it's this cold, firefighters say they lose something else that's invaluable in fighting a fire, and that's time. 

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