Cold Weather Safety

As the temperatures dip into the teens, it's important to remember to take special precautions to protect yourself from the cold weather. Roanoke Fire-EMS and the Centers for Disease Control want to remind you how to keep you and your family safe during the winter months:
  • Dress warmly. Adults and children should wear a hat (nearly half of all body heat is lost through the head), scarf, sleeves that are snug at the wrist, mittens/gloves, water resistant coat and boots, plus several layers of loose fitting clothing.
  • Limit your time outdoors.
  • Stay dry. Wet clothing chills the body rapidly.
  • Avoid exertion. Cold weather puts extra strain on the heart.
  • Understand wind chill. The wind chill index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed.
  • Avoid walking on ice.
  • Be safe during recreation, ie: skiing, snowboarding, sledding. Wear proper protective equipment (such as a helmet). Avoid perspiring or becoming overtired.
  • Do not step on to thin ice, you can easily fall through! Watch children near frozen bodies of water.
  • Take care when traveling. Listen to travel advisories and keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent your gas line from freezing. Make sure to have food and water along with blankets in your car for emergencies.
Cold Weather Health Emergencies
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body's stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. Waring signs of hypothermia are:
  • Shivering, exhaustion
  • Confusion, fumbling hands
  • Memory loss, slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy
What to Do
If you notice any of these signs, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency - get medical attention immediately!

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures. Signs of frostbite are:
  • A white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness
A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

What to Do
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described above. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.

If there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes - this increases the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm, not hot, water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
  • Warm the affected area using body heat if you don't use water. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
  • Don't use a heating pad, heat lamp or the heat of a stove, fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold weather conditions.