Some of their gloves froze to the point that they could not bend their fingers – sometimes even after the gloves were off.
The valves on the tankers were freezing so rapidly, they were either stuck open or stuck closed, making it difficult to get water to the fire or to refill the tanks.
One firefighter’s gear was so stiff that when he stepped out of his pants, they stood up on the grass without him, creating the surreal sense that legs were still inside.
That’s what firefighters from throughout Allen County had to deal with early Wednesday as they battled a sawmill blaze near Grabill in subzero temperatures.
Weather was not a friend, said David Ringer, the St. Joseph Township fire chief.
Firefighters were called to the Cedar Creek Sawmill a little after 1 a.m.
By the time Ringer arrived, heavy flames were coming through the roof and sides of one of the sawmill’s commercial structures.
Ringer said officials requested help from fire departments countywide to assist with extra tankers, engines and firefighters.
Firefighters had to go into a rotation, taking some engines and tankers to a nearby firehouse to thaw while other vehicles worked at the scene.
Then the thawed engines and tankers were sent back out, while the others at the scene were brought to the firehouse.
We were facing those kinds of issues, Ringer said.
Meanwhile, firefighters were in the cold with gear that quickly became soaked and then frozen.
Hands were hurting, and movements sometimes were difficult.
St. Joseph’s Rehab 70, a converted school bus that supplies firefighters with drinks, first aid items and other necessities, was also brought to the fire.
Firefighters used the bus to thaw themselves out, Ringer said, and they blew through supplies.
We probably used double or a little more than we would on a normal night, he said.
Despite the cold, firefighters were able to save a house and two other commercial structures near the sawmill, according to Ringer.
Two firefighters suffered minor injuries as the fire was brought under control about 10 a.m.
Allen County pulled together as a whole and had a great response, Ringer said.