Pack offers advice for surviving winter weather

Published 12:14 pm Thursday, December 16, 2010

Staff Writer

Staff Writer
As the cold weather comes blowing in, there are some steps to take to keep warm and protect residences.
John Pack, director of Beaufort County’s Emergency Management and EMS Services, said many people don’t think about winter-months precautions as they do for summer months.
“Coming up, it looks like we’re going to see half an inch of snow (tonight) and then some sleet,” he said. “It’ll change over to rain and then possibly back to snow again before it leaves.”
Pack said the last snowfall in eastern North Carolina did not stick on roads because they were warm. Lately, the weather has been so cold that the roads have become cold to the point that the snow will stick and create a hazard, he said.
“At least the ground at my house is frozen solid for the first inch or so,” Pack said. “And people around here are not very good at driving in snow because they don’t see it that much.”
Pack e-mailed all of the county’s fire departments a list of safety precautions to take for their trucks and their buildings.
Precautions, he said, they already know about.
“In this cold weather, fire trucks can freeze solid,” Pack said. “They’re all holding at least 750 gallons of water. And if the water freezes in the pumps, they’ll burst.”
Pack said he is a perfectionist who wants to make sure emergency responders carry extra blankets, fully charged batteries and replacement batteries.
According to Pack, firefighters need to take extra precautions because hypothermia, instead of heat exhaustion in the warmer months, becomes the major killer of firefighters in the winter months because they can easily get drenched while putting out fires and the water will freeze.
“The same goes for layering,” Pack said. “People need to wear layers of clothing. Always dress appropriately, even if you’re leaving your home for a couple minutes.”
Pack said the average person usually has a hurricane-preparedness kit. That’s good news because that person already has nine-tenths of what is needed for a winter-preparedness kit.
“They just need to add a couple things to it, like real, warm blankets or a couple sleeping bags,” he said. “A sleeping bag, per person, per household.”
A couple more things Pack said people should have on hand are winter hats, such as toboggans or beanies. For the hands, Pack recommends mittens, as they can prevent greater heat loss than gloves by keeping fingers together.
“In fact, one of the greatest things in technology has been hand warmers,” he said. “They’re very inexpensive and need to be in emergency kits in the winter time, especially a car emergency kit.”
Pack said one of the major dangers people in cars face during winter is freezing. He said people do not take the proper precautions to pack bottled water, blankets or sleeping bags, food such as granola bars and chocolate for to provide sugar. Water may be kept in coolers (no ice) to prevent it from freezing.
“The sugar fuels the ‘engine,’ which is you,” he said, “and helps you go a little better. Hot chocolate or cocoa is good for you as well, because it heats your body up.”
Some of the “do nots,” Pack said, is to not use a propane heater inside a home. They can be used inside tents because there are flaps for ventilation.
Pack recommended hanging sheets between doorways in a house to block off areas not being used. A regular sheet, he said, will provide a barrier to keep heat inside the areas that require heat.
“Also, people need to store water in the winter months, more so than they need to during the warmer summer months,” Pack said. “People will get more dehydrated in the winter than they would in the summer.”
Pack said generators may be used to keep lights on, but not to run a home’s heating system.
“Most 5,000 KW generators will not run a heat pump,” he said. “A lot of homes require too much power for that. People invariably try to run their heat on the generator, and it will not run. If it does, it’s going to damage the heating system.”
Pack said people should determine what size generator they will need for their homes. The generators with the power needed to run heat system and supply power to the rest of the house will cost about $5,000 or more.
“Kids going to school as well,” he said. “If your child has to walk three football fields and then wait for a bus, they need to be clothed in layers. They need to be properly dressed and not get frostbite before the bus ever gets there. And with the windchill factor like we had the other night, it takes less than 20 minutes for a person to freeze to death if they’re not properly dressed.
“So, we need to watch the kids and we need to watch ourselves. Layer appropriately, but layer to where you can take things off.”
Anyone in Beaufort County experiencing a weather-related emergency (or any type of emergency), should call 911 or his office at 252-946-2046.