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Home : News : News Features
NEWS | Jan. 11, 2017

Surviving wintry weather: Step carefully and wear proper gear

By Tech. Sgt. Lealan Buehrer 182nd Airlift Wing

PEORIA, Ill. - Midwest weather can be notorious for giving pleasant temperatures one day and an arctic blast the next. However, there are precautions Airmen can take in order to ensure their safety during the frigid winter months.

Tobey Beagle, a captain with the Illinois Department of Military Affairs at the 182nd Civil Engineer Squadron fire department, said that the most common types of injuries the fire department responds to in the winter are trips, slips and falls on ice.

"Especially early on in the winter, people aren't used to walking on [ice]," he said. "It takes a little while to re-acclimate to it."

In order to help avoid injuries from slipping on ice, Tech. Sgt. Cindy Hawkins, a safety specialist with the 182nd Airlift Wing, recommends preventives measures ahead of time, such as wearing traction cleats over shoes and applying ice-melt salt to sidewalks.

However, there are steps that Beagle recommends until first responders arrive if you do witness someone fall on ice.

"The best thing you can do is assess them, try to determine the extent if they've injured themselves. Also keep in mind if they've hit their head or not," he said.

Beagle said it is important to get the injured person out of the cold environment if possible. If you cannot, cover the person and keep him or her warm until first responders arrive.

In order to prevent exposure injuries such as frostbite and hypothermia, Beagle recommends minimizing the time a person works outside. He said wearing layers is important if you do have to be outside, as well as covering skin by wearing gloves, hats and earmuffs.

"Work-rest cycles are important if you do have to be outside. Again, the temperature really dictates how long you can be out versus coming back in, and how long you should be inside to re-warm," he said.

First Lt. Whitney McInnis, a clinical nurse with the 182nd Medical Group, said that hypothermia occurs when the body temperature is so cold that the body's organs start shutting down and exposure to cold weather without enough clothing layers can cause it.

"During hypothermia, your blood will try to make your internal organs stay functioning, so all the blood just goes to your central system and that's why you get those [frostbite] injuries on the toes and fingers first and foremost, also the nose and ear tips," she said.

She said the first thing to counteract hypothermia is to remove yourself from the cold. Injured persons can also drink warm liquids and put on warm layers, but should never try to treat frostbite themselves.

"You don't want to try to rub that affected extremity because you can actually make it fall off," McInnis said. "And don't run them under warm water. You want to just try to get near a source of heat, blankets, but no warm water because that can affect it negatively also."

To prevent getting to that point, McInnis said having awareness could help.

"Thankfully, when you're here on base they do give guidance on weather conditions that you should be taking your work-rest cycles, but any time that you're feeling any kind of tingling in your extremities, especially fingers and toes, you know that you've been exposed too long and you need to get into warmer weather," she said.

There may be times where a person cannot get into warmer weather, such as when stranded while driving. Hawkins recommends keeping supplies in your vehicle, including a blanket, flashlight, cellphone charger and snacks.

"Make sure you always drive with your gas at least half-full, check your tires before you leave at any departure. Make sure when you're leaving that your car has all the maintenance that need be, if that's checking the wipers, if it's just making sure you got the fluids in there, as well as making sure that you have extra money and an extra charger in the car," she said.

Whether it is injuries, exposure or isolation, Airmen can prevent the cold consequences of winter by simple preparation. Plan to wear extra layers of clothing to keep warm. Plan for items needed to navigate icy terrain. Plan for the "what ifs" in the event of vehicle difficulties. By doing so, Airmen can help keep themselves safe from winter's hazards and available to be always on mission.