First responders ready as dangerous cold sets in Monday

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- With a Wind Chill Warning in effect on Monday, January 6th and extending into Tuesday afternoon, emergency responders were ready and waiting for anyone who might need medical attention as a result of the bitter cold.

The Milwaukee Fire Department on Monday was taking special measures to protect firefighters and the public as wind chill values were expected to drop to the -35° to -50° range.

Milwaukee Fire crews on Sunday night responded to a fire at an apartment building near 63rd and Florist that took a toll not only on the fire victims who were displaced from their homes and left to find temporary housing in the bitter cold -- but also the firefighters.

"You immediately freeze over. You become a hard shell," Captain Todd Van Roo said.

Van Roo was at Sunday night's fire.

On Monday, he was on a new team, called the Power Unit. A total of eight additional Milwaukee firefighters are assigned to respond to fires so they can rush in to replace firefighters when face masks freeze and wet gear turns to ice.

"We'll have dry clothes. We'll be ready to go and it lets those companies thaw out so that they can move again and keep them out of harm's way," Van Roo said.

Firefighters frequently come across frozen hydrants and narrow, snowy streets -- making their job even tougher.

"We'll be sending an additional apparatus on fire call situations. If we have EMS calls, we're sending a private ambulance with our apparatus right away so we're able to get them out of the cold temperatures as quickly as possible," Battalion Chief John Schwengel said.

Bell Ambulance is gearing up for a busy couple of days. The city's homeless, some who refuse shelter keep Bell Ambulance crews busy.

"We've been making a list of some of the shelters and churches so if we do encounter someone who needs somewhere to go and they don't necessarily need to go to the hospital we can help them," Christopher Anderson said.

The ambulance company made its Bay View base a shelter of sorts for first responders on Monday -- cooking up chili and hot chocolate.

"If we can give them a short break and give them something to eat, something to do, to keep warm -- people can get together, socialize for a few minutes before they go back out on the road," Anderson said.

One of the Milwaukee Fire Department's Power Units is stationed at 13th and Resevoir on the city's north side, and another is located on the south side. These units will go wherever they are needed.