The La Crosse Fire Department almost made it out of the deep freeze without a major incident.
Then, around 10 p.m. Wednesday a call came in of a house fire on Winnebago Street, just blocks from Station 1.
La Crosse Fire Chief Ken Gilliam was in the WIZM studio that afternoon to talk about fighting a fire in an attic, in negative-30 degree temps.
“You get on a metal ladder, get a metal tool and crawl up on a roof in 30-below zero and try to start prying tin panels off,” Gilliam said, also mentioning all the snow on the roof, as well.
Fires are never good. Fires in those temps are terrible.
“The main thing is, once we start flowing water, we have to keep flowing water,” La Crosse Fire Chief Ken Gilliam said Thursday from the WIZM studio. “So we leave the nozzles open, and there’s just water everywhere, which just compounds the problem and starts freezing up.
Gilliam essentially said his guys subbed in and out to keep the warm and fresh — the scene, an interesting one of frozen firemen looking a bit like mummies.
“It makes pretty spectacular pictures,” Gilliam said. “You’re breaking the joints in your gear and trying to keep moving.”
Gilliam said there was a bus on hand for firefighters to go in and warm up, while others subbed out to head back to the station.
“As (your suit) gets wet, you almost form a crust of ice on the outside, which makes it really frustrating to move,” Gilliams said. “But it does provide some wind blocking so it’s really your face, your hands, your feet that start freezing — no different than if you’re out sledding.”
The trucks were at the scene 3 minutes after the call. The aftermath still lingers, however, for those living in the house, as well as firefighters and beyond.
“We’ve got an engine that still kind of froze up that we’re dealing with today,” Gilliams said. “That weather’s just hard on machinery.”
Nobody was hurt during fire. Just people and equipment recovering.
Watch the hour with Gilliam here, or listen to the podcast here.