By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – The run of record cold weather is nothing to take lightly, according to various officials. With more sub-freezing temperatures in the future, people are urged to be aware of steps they can take to protect themselves.
The city’s Department of Health and Human Services initiated a “Cold Weather Emergency Response Plan” on Jan. 2. The plan included alerting the community to take the following actions:
“Closely monitor local news reports for updates on weather forecasts and storm impacts.
“Make sure you have a well-stocked winter home emergency supply kit that includes flashlights, portable radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food and a manual can opener.
“Minimize outside activities, particularly the elderly and very young and remember to consider your pets.
“Dress in several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, rather than a single layer of heavy clothing. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Wear a hat, mittens and sturdy waterproof boots, protecting your extremities. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
“Excessive exposure can lead to frostbite, which is damaging to body tissue that is frozen. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, seek medical help immediately.
“Hypothermia can occur in extreme cases. The warning signs are uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If the person’s temperature drops below 95 degrees, seek immediate medical care.
“Ensure you have sufficient heating fuel, as well as emergency heating equipment in case you lose electricity.
“When utilizing alternate heating sources, such as your fireplace, wood stove or space heater, take the necessary safety precautions. Keep a fire extinguisher handy; ensuring everyone knows how to use it properly. Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
“If utilizing an emergency generator, read, understand and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Always operate emergency generators outdoors and away from any open window. Make sure your generator is properly installed and grounded as you may be liable for damage or injury to other people and property that may result from improperly installed or operated equipment.”
Bill Miller, executive director of the Friends of the Homeless shelter on Worthington Street, told Reminder Publications
that he “definitely keeps an eye on the weather.”
He noted that record or near record cold on the evening of Jan. 3 posed “life-threatening conditions.”
He believes that Springfield is “ahead of the game” though when it comes to making sure the city’s homeless are protected from extreme cold.
Miller noted homeless programs in the city throughout the year move people to shelters or permanent housing options. The resource center at the Friends of the Homeless campus is open 24 hours a day, which means even people who are not living at the shelter have a warm place to stay in inclement weather and can receive three meals a day.
The number of homeless generally increases at the shelter in the winter, Miller said, but he had not seen a rush to it on colder nights.
He added the Springfield police make themselves aware of people who might try to spend the night outside. Massachusetts law allows police officers to bring a person who might put his or her life into peril to a hospital, Miller said.
Humans must take steps to protect themselves in frigid temperatures, but they also most watch out for their pets.
Candy Lash, marketing and communications manager for Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society in Springfield, released the following suggestions:
“Don’t leave pets outdoors in freezing temperatures. While dogs need outdoor exercise, take care not to keep them out for lengthy periods during very cold weather. Short-coated dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater during walks. Dogs and cats are safer indoors in all sorts of weather.
“Wind chill can threaten an animal’s life, no matter what the temperature. Outdoor dogs must be protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The house should be turned to face away from the wind and the doorway should be covered with a flap of heavy waterproof fabric or heavy plastic.
“Companion animals spending a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter. Keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your animal’s water dish to make certain the water is fresh and not frozen. Use plastic food and water bowls rather than metal; your pet’s tongue can stick and freeze to metal in cold temperatures.
“Warm car engines are dangerous for cats and small wildlife. Animals may crawl up under the hood in parked cars looking for warmth. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine.
“De-icing chemicals are hazardous. Salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your dog or cat’s feet. Wipe their paws with a damp towel every time after coming in from outdoors – even if you don’t see salt on walkways. Pet friendly products are available.
“When walking your dog, ice and snow can accumulate in the fur between your dog’s toes. This can be uncomfortable. Be sure and remove clumps as they occur.
“Antifreeze is a deadly poison but thanks to a new law, which [went] into effect on Jan. 1, a bittering agent will be added making it less tempting to animals drawn to its sweet taste. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze out of reach. There are antifreeze products made with propylene glycol, which if swallowed in small amounts will not hurt pets, wildlife, or people.”