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Weather a factor in Bond Building fire

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Weather hampered efforts as firefighters battled a blaze that destroyed the Bond Building in Dauphin, last week.
When the Dauphin Fire Department received the call shortly before 3 a.m. Feb. 7, the temperature was recorded as -33C and by the time the time the sun came up a few hours later, it had only risen a couple of degrees to -31C.
“It is hard on the personnel. It is hard on the equipment. It is hard on the morale of everybody, as well,” Dauphin fire chief Cam Abrey said, adding in such extreme conditions equipment malfunctions are to be expected.
“We ran into one (situation) with our ladder truck where it started to freeze up and we had to bed the ladder and send it back to the fire hall to thaw out and go through all the components on it to make sure it was operable. They took it back out to the scene again a couple of hours later. And then we had our wildland truck that was being used to shuttle people back and forth from the scene to the fire hall . . . and some of the lines on the little pump on it froze and burst. So we are facing some repairs on that truck, as well.”
On top of the equipment, Abrey said, a close eye has to be kept on firefighters to make sure they are handling the conditions. Efforts are made to rotate personnel out of front-line fighting every one to two hours, he said.
“We have the trucks on scene that people are rotating in and out of to warm up. So we are not exposing them to frostnip, frostbite or any kind of cold related emergencies like that,” Abrey said.
“And we were fortunate we were able to get them back to the fire hall where they could take off the gear and warm up for a little bit. We had breakfast provided for them, we had lunch provided for them. So we could get them warmed up and get some food in their bellies.”
With such extreme conditions, Abrey said firefighter injuries are also a major concern. With all the ice which had accumulated at the scene, Abrey was surprised there was only one slip and fall which, luckily, did not result in an injury.
“Just a quick little slip and they popped back up. But we removed them, just to make sure everything was good. You never know about pulled muscles or things like that,” he said, adding minor injuries can become more serious if not properly addressed. And that can have serious consequences for firefighters on departments such as Dauphin’s.
“This isn’t their career. So if somebody gets injured at the scene of a fire with a paid call or volunteer fire department, it affects their career, as well. If they are hurt seriously enough then they can’t go back to their regular job. And it is their regular job that pays the mortgage and the bills and puts food on the table.”
Given the conditions and the dangers they presented, a mutual aid call was sent to Gilbert Plains to ensure there was enough bodies to properly engage the fire while making sure no one was left out in the cold too long.
The neighbouring department responded by sending six firefighters to help out.
“Having Gilbert Plains come in and assist us like that was a huge asset, as well, to be able to rotate everybody through,” Abrey said.
With the extra help firefighters were able to leave the scene and return to the station at 4 p.m.
“So that was 13 hours and few odd minutes,” Abrey said, adding despite what some people might think, the work does not end when the trucks leave the scene. Reloading hose, lubricating caps and flushing drains is some of the work which needs to be completed before firefighters can knock off.
“So there is all the preventative maintenance and restocking of the truck to make sure it is ready to go for the next incident. So they cleared the scene at just over 13 hours and then they spent another probably two hours getting everything back in order at the station.”
As for the fire itself, the investigation continues and there is no cause determined as this point.
Abrey said the investigation has been turned over to the Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner, as he was out of town at the time and is the only one in the department trained to investigate fire scenes.
“Where the fire started can’t be determined at this time,” Abrey said, adding the official investigation and the insurance investigation is hampered by ongoing conditions at the scene.
“In this environment it is extremely difficult. With this one, everything is under about 20 inches of ice right now.”
Social media chatter that the fire originated in the basement of the building can not be confirmed, he said.
“We don’t know that for sure, because we had to withdraw the crews,” Abrey said.
“It is hard to say whether there was fire located on the main floor, because of the thick smoke throughout the building.”
Information regarding the investigation into the fire will be relayed as it becomes available.