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WDAY: The News Leader

Published January 19, 2012, 06:28 PM

Sub-zero temperatures make fighting fire even tougher

Casselton, ND (WDAY TV) - As heavy smoke crawled across a blue but frigid morning sky today, Casselton firefighters had to do more than fight a house fire. They had to save themselves from the icy temperatures that surrounded them.

By: Kevin Wallevand, WDAY

Just outside Casselton, North Dakota today volunteer firefighters battled a house fire that slightly injured the homeowner.

54 year-old Phillip Pender suffered smoke inhalation and minor burns after fire swept through his rural home. Fire officials say it appears a spare heater is to blame for the fire. No firefighters were injured, but the brutal temperatures made it difficult for all of them. The house was in flames when crews arrived and by mid-morning there was very little left of the home.

Not only the cold, but the equipment that just doesn't perform in conditions like this.

As heavy smoke crawled across a blue but frigid morning sky today, Casselton firefighters had to do more than fight a house fire. They had to save themselves from the icy temperatures that surrounded them.

Tim McLean – Casselton Fire Chief: “When they go back to the truck for their air packs, they go and warm up for ten minutes then thaw out and head back out.”

One of the biggest challenges, the breathing machines the firefighters use to stay alive while battling a blaze.

Dan Wilcox – Casselton Firefighter: “Air packs freeze up, one froze up, basically you do not have any air.”

Tom Roach – Casselton Firefighter: “They will freeze up the mask over the face your warm breath will freeze that up.”

While fighting the fire, the turnout gear turned into one giant crispy chunk of ice. Steam and water froze caking the jackets.

“Your straps get wet and they freeze up and you cannot get your pack off it takes more time to do things.”

With thousands of gallons of water trucked in you can imagine how hard it is to fight the fire when their masks and shields are caked with ice.

Dan Wilcox: “That is steam and it freezes and you cannot see either.”

Truckloads of water brought in from Casselton to fight the fire did more than put out the fire, it froze on the ground and road, making the battle brutal.

“There are steps going into the house. You have to have a buddy holding on to you going into the house.”

This endured by more than a dozen volunteers, who left work and their home today, insuring one man got out of his burning house alive.

Pender, the homeowner who was injured, was treated at the Fargo VA for his injuries.

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