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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Halloween Blizzard of 1991

I remember being in a home following up on an investigation and looking out the front window seeing the large snowflakes coming down. I said to the home owner I was working with, "I didn't think it was supposed to start this soon." He said, "I thought it was supposed to start as rain." It was about noon on Thursday, Oct. 31, 1991.

As I drove to work that morning, I heard for the first time that snow was predicted to start in the late afternoon. As I finished up at the house and headed back to my police car, it was snowing hard. I was wearing my summer uniform shoes that had minimal tread—I remember I was slipping as I made my way down the driveway and hung on the squad car as I skidded to a stop. There had been no indication of snow when I'd arrived at the house 30 minutes earlier.

Once in the car I immediately remembered the car had its "summer shoes" on as well. (The department normally put the snow tires on the cars around November 15th.) It was alarmingly slippery as I made my way back to the station. This was before the internet, and weather information came to us from broadcast radio and television, plus we got some information via the state data terminal. The radio weather forecast was suddenly changing and more snow, strong winds, and a blizzard were predicted.

At the station, plans were made to get the afternoon and night shifts in early, and to press the unmarked vehicles with four-wheel drive into service for patrol work. We also borrowed some four-wheel drive vehicles from the fire department. The already busy public works shop would get started on the police snow tires shortly.

The snow-related calls for service started coming in; it was like someone flipped a switch and we were instantly overrun with calls. We prioritized them based on the level of personal injury, beginning with crashes with injuries and medical calls, then crashes without injuries. Reports of cars sliding off the road would have to wait for a while. I had changed to my winter boots, but my car would not get snow tires for a few more hours yet as the city was concentrating on the cars that would be working later in the afternoon and evening. The public works supervisor said he would free up a snow plow if we needed one to get to a call.

I was sent on a medical call to assist a young man who had severed some fingers while trying to unclog a running snow blower. An assistant fire chief had arrived first in his all-wheel drive SUV and was handling the patient care. A family member located the fingers and we preserved them. We kept the ambulance a block away as the hill going down to the house was extremely slippery and we didn't think the ambulance would be able to get back up the hill. We got the boy and his dad to the fire chief's pickup and he took them up the hill to the ambulance. We ended up hand pushing the ambulance as it worked its way to a plowed road. I heard a few days later they were not able to reattach the fingers.

I was only held over a few hours, as the second and third shifts were in early. By 7 p.m., calls for services were slowing down. It appeared most people had left work early and were home and hunkered down. Going into the night shifts, things were extremely quiet and stayed quiet for the next two days. When I worked on Friday and Saturday, it was almost eerie, as there were no calls, and no traffic. People were staying put. We had a few emergencies but nothing that was life threatening.

We worked closely with our public works crews, who periodically needed a car moved. We tried not to tow the cars if possible, as it was obvious that no one intentionally parked their cars in the middle of the residential street. Often plows would get close, and we would call the registered owner who then showed up and, with a little shoveling, could back out onto a portion of the street that had been plowed.

Before it was all done we had received 28.4 inches of snow. Friday and Saturday brought high winds and a rapid drop in temperature. The wet snow had adhered to the warm pavement and then frozen. The roads would be difficult for the next week as the cold weather did not allow the chemical melter to melt the packed snow. It reminded me of driving on a bad washboard gravel road.

Lessons Learned

Prepare for winter early. It's Minnesota, it's going to snow so prepare early. The new date to change snow tires for the police department was moved to the third week of October. Our winter snow removal ordinance was changed to be effective November 1. It was previously November 15.

Work as a team. The entire city staff worked together and went the extra mile to help other departments. We knew each other and valued each other.

Be agile. As the calls for service rapidly increased, and the ability to respond became more difficult, we adapted. We used different vehicles, and the chief even authorized any footwear that worked until the storm was over. We adapted again once the crisis was over and we could take extra time to assist our citizens and maybe save them a tow bill.

And for the next week, the conversation everywhere was all about "storm stories."

Up next: Highlights from the IACP Annual Conference.

Stay safe,


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Circuit Training for Firefighters

The title of the email from the U.S. Fire Administration was intriguing: “Circuit training impact on volunteer firefighters' cardiovascular health.” The article links to a study that has some of the usual statistics about firefighter health and then measures the impact of a four-week circuit training workout program. The study consisted of pre-training testing and developing individual baselines, as well as use of control groups. The participants were again tested after four weeks of circuit training.

For those of you not familiar with circuit training, it is a physical workout routine that involves a series of aerobic movement and resistance training. The workout that was selected for the study consisted of six stations that were repeated three times in each workout. And the firefighters completed the workouts three times a week.

The stations were designed to replicate the tasks of the firefighters. The six stations included: a 40-pound carry for 100 feet, a 3-minute stair climb, a 45-second plank pose, a 20-pound carry with a fast walk for 100 feet, right and left single-leg stand for as long as they could balance, and a 15-pound carry up and down 30 stairs. I was intrigued by the one-leg stands, as our statistics show that slips and falls from losing balance is a high-injury area for firefighters.

The participants in the study showed marked improvement and reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease. You can read the full results and details of the study.

Here is a related article from the Cooper Institute that provides more background on circuit training for firefighters.

Up next: Lessons Learned from the Halloween Blizzard of 1991

Stay safe,

Thursday, September 13, 2018

TSO 2.0

The Fridley, Blaine, Columbia Heights, and Spring Lake Park police departments—and their area EMS and fire departments—recently completed a multi-discipline training exercise, and they took the Training Safety Officer (TSO) program to a whole new level. The training was titled “Multi-Agency Hostile Event Response, Training, and Exercise.” Note the words “training and exercise.” Fridley Police Officer Bob Stevens referred to it as “walk, jog, and then run,” with the goal of letting the responders build up their skill levels before applying it during the exercise.

The training focused on how to respond to an active shooter or mass casualty incident and worked on integrating the area’s police, fire, and EMS responders. More than 150 responders attended the training, which was offered on six days to departments in their area. The training operated with a strong Incident Command System (ICS), including use of the ICS forms for incident objectives, assignments, communications, and a medical plan. And of course there was a safety briefing with occasional reminders scattered throughout the session.

Officer Stevens reached out to the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) for TSO courses. Tracy Stille and I taught two classes for them well ahead of the training. They fully implemented the program, and I was struck by the amount of time and effort they put in to planning the training and planning the safety aspects of the training.

The end result was six days of excellent training and skill building, no lost-time injuries, and a forging of new relationships with neighboring responders that crossed the lines of EMS, fire, and police. The training was extremely well received.

We thank you for taking this to what we are calling TSO 2.0, and we will be incorporating much of what you showed us into future courses.

We also thank you for the invitation to be observers at your exercise.

Up next: Some Interesting Data on Firefighter Fitness

Stay safe,