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Monday, 20 April 2015 05:00

Laugh at the Cold!

Written by  Deidrich E. Towne Jr., MBCP, MBCI

Logo-web-PPBIIt was quite a winter in much of the US. A record number of storms rolled across the south and pumped up though New England. Boston had no place to put all the snow. We have had our share of cold and snow in the northern part of New York.

I’m going to tell you about the weekend of Feb. 13-16 (including Friday the 13th) and how proper planning, monitoring, understanding logistics, and resources can help you confidently manage the challenges of the weather and even enjoy it! In this story (all true), I offer examples of some fairly basic practices for personal comfort and protection that relate to our discipline.

I have written before about our family hunting lodge in the Adirondack Mountains. Many cousins and friends gather there each fall to enjoy the woods; share some great foods and drink; and repair, enhance, and maintain the facilities. We also make a trip or two up there in the winter to snowshoe, cross country, and downhill ski.

On this trip we planned for 11 people for four days. We prepared menus, shopped, packed, communicated, and packed some more. Are you starting to see the linkage with some of our real world activities, planning, managing, and the relationship with incident management?

On Thursday evening I started packing the Suburban, pod storage on the top, and a trailer hitch rack on the back. We were taking a lot of gear and food for the trip. We were up before 5 a.m. Friday to pick up three members of our party at the airport who were flying in from McLean, Va. The evening before, as part of our due diligence, we had discussed the vagaries of flying out of Dulles to Syracuse and the airline practice of holding planes with empty seats for slow markets. Apparently this was not the case on Friday morning. As we were about to leave, my friend Hamid phoned to say his flight was delayed. Apparently, the plane that flies the Syracuse route was down for repairs. Worse yet, there were several people waiting at Dulles who were supposed to be on the flight the evening before.

After several hours of airline updates, the team from McLean cancelled their trip up north. This was a disappointment for all, but it turned out to be blessing for their family as a pipe had frozen in their home. Had my friend and his boys not returned, it would have been a rough time for his wife and daughter at home.

We embarked around 11:30 a.m. for the Snowbelt. This is an area east of Lake Ontario that two days earlier claimed a 30-car, four tractor-trailer pile-up due to lake effect whiteouts. It can be bright sunshine one minute, and the next you drive into this curtain of dense snow and zero visibility. We were prepared; tire pressure checked, load balanced, four-wheel drive, proper clothing, even snowshoes if we had to walk off the road! It was a beautiful day, bright sunshine, and except for a few miles of hard-packed snow early in the cruise, great roads all the way to the mountains.

The lodge is on the side of Moosehead Mountain. My uncle Harry named it the Moosehead Mountain Hangover Lodge. I don’t quite understand how he came up with the name but we got a nice sign with a moose and a mountain painted on it. Anyway, since it’s off the road and has a steep driveway, I contacted a friend who lives nearby. He plowed the driveway, which was a great help because the snow in the woods was about four feet deep from the road to the back door.

We arrived around 2:30 p.m. and opened the doors. It looked pretty good, but for the middle of the afternoon it was still pretty cold! I started the process of cleaning the stoves and fired the front stove right away. I also brought a propane heater to help with the cold. While my daughter was unpacking the Suburban, I discovered one of the stove pipes in the kitchen had a lot of pin holes and was not safe for a fire. I checked my supplies. I had a section of six-inch pipe, but an eight-inch piece of pipe was needed. I would have to go to town, which was about 12 miles away.

I decided to wait until my friend Russ arrived with his three grandkids and friends, switched parking spots on the hill, and then drove into town. We continued unloading supplies and gear, still having fun. The fire in the living (front) room was going well, but in the kitchen (back room) the temperature was less than 20 degrees. I would have the back stove ready to light as soon as I got that piece of pipe. Russ arrived about 3:30 p.m., and I explained the problem. We switched parking spots and I headed to town. That took about 45 minutes on very curvy roads. When I returned, Russ and company had unpacked, but the kids were in the living room -- still wearing coats, hats, and mittens -- playing a game around the propane heater. It was still less than 40 degrees in the living room, right next to the stove. That was cold!

We replaced the pipe and started the fire in the back stove. Fans were blowing the air around but it took a long time to heat up the lodge. Hours later, we were settling in and another guest arrived; Cousin Sean came in from Pulaski and met everyone he didn’t know. We were preparing the fryers for Buffalo wings, fries, and all the fixings for dinner when we opened up the upstairs bunkroom and a whoosh of cold air cascaded down into the living room and everyone shivered. We also opened the curtain to the “honeymoon suite" – a storage area over the old part of the kitchen which allows the heat from the kitchen stove to travel into the bunkroom. The curtain helps to keep the hot air out, but we still needed it that tonight.

The water system worked, but as soon as it hit the cold of the bathroom it froze in the toilet. We moved the propone heater into the bathroom and turned on the electric heater that helped keep the pipes from freezing. I still remember the retained cold in that porcelain toilet!

As we started to lay out our itinerary for the following day, we heard groans from the kids. They agreed to get up early, and as things warmed up around us, we all fell asleep. Sean got up around 3 a.m. and loaded the stoves again to keep us all toasty throughout the night. When I woke up on Valentine’s Day, many of the windows inside were frosted over. It was a little less toasty in the morning as the thermometer outside read -18 degrees. I showered and started grilling thick sliced bacon and Deider’s French toast on Italian bread with real maple syrup for breakfast. Everyone ate well and cleaned up to get ready for the day.

Planning made a big difference, and we were on the road early to Saranac Lake, N.Y., to visit a winter carnival. It was not a lot warmer, but we were all dressed for cold weather. Our timetable took into perspective how many people, cars, police, snowmobiles, fire trucks, and everything we thought would impact our trip. At least that’s what we thought. We had a little help from my sister who lives in Saranac Lake, and that helped with our timing. We arrived a little early and found a great parking spot between the ice palace and parade route. Did I mention cold? I don’t believe it got up to zero all day. There were hundreds of first responders everywhere directing traffic, coordinating crossings, responding to emergencies, and preparing for the parade. Saranac Lake is a small community in the Adirondack Mountains, but on parade day it was one large, well-behaved, organized, friendly party in the cold. We visited the ice palace first, and it was impressive. Ice is mined out of Lake Flower, which is all documented on websites about the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. Their schedule of events for the days and weeks around this event is very impressive for such a small, secluded community. Look it up for yourself!

We took our obligatory pictures, in bright sunlight and as beautiful as the day was, but you didn’t want to have your gloves off for more than a minute at a time. When we had exhausted ourselves from the breeze, severe cold at the ice palace, watched the Civil War regiment fire their muzzle loaders several times, and delighted the kids with kettle corn eaten with their mittens on, we headed for the parade route. We were to meet my sister up there. She was to be working with her church by giving out hot chocolate to those at the parade. When we inquired about Carol, her friends said she was late as usual. All through town there was a subliminal buzz as the parade route was prepared, vehicles staged, barriers put in place, and people arrived and secured a spot to watch the spectacle. The event was well organized, quietly taking shape and without much fanfare. About this time, my daughter told me her feet were cold and her boots were too small – which was simply a resource issue. My friend Russ, a sporting goods representative, has several lines he markets to stores throughout the Northeast. One of them, Blue Line Sports, was located across the street from us in the village. He had planned on stopping by for a visit, so we all followed his lead into the store. We had been out in the cold for over an hour and walking into the sports shop quickly brought welcomed warmth. The staff was prepared, and the foot traffic was increasing as the parade start time approached. We were struggling to get our jackets off so we did not start sweating, and suddenly my daughter didn’t want to buy boots there. She said she would rather wait until the trip home. I argued with logic and frostbite stories, but she persisted. Just when we were ready to go back out, she changed her mind. We found a pair she liked, and she was quickly in new warm boots.

Back out on the parade route, the kids were in the front line, and it was everything a parade should be – everyone dressed for the occasion, pipers with their fur hats, bands trying to thaw out their instruments, fire engine with a Dalmatian on the driver's lap, National Guard giving out cow bells, sheriff's cars, state DEC and police, Boy Scouts, Shriners, and the Civil War Brigade. It went on for over an hour, and there were more than 50 groups marshalled for the parade.

The logistics were perfect for this little town, and we were right next to one of the command posts. The kids took turns burying themselves in the deep snow right next to the route. Russ and I changed places, caught people who were slipping, and picked up those who fell several times. I even sat in the snow in my wool overalls to take a little time off my feet. It was a fun, friendly crowd with cowbells clanging! Eventually the cold got to all of us, and we were forced to retreat to the vehicles about 10 minutes before the end of the parade. Once in the Suburban, we passed around the snacks, more hot chocolate, and then we went looking for the ski hill. We knew the hill was closed because everyone in the area always went to the parade, but we wanted to see if the kids wanted to go back. But no one wanted to get out of the vehicles. We then headed back to Moosehead Mountain with smiles on everyone’s faces, warming up, and a few who fell asleep during the hour’s return ride.

Once back at Moosehead, Sean and the kids went back out to work on their little sled run through the woods. It was still very cold, but they stayed out until dark. When they came in we were able to watch most of the Duke-Syracuse ACC basketball game. We had dinner and went to bed early again.

On Sunday morning it was cool in camp, and it took a while to get the temperature up. We grilled sausages and peppermint pancakes for breakfast. The team came alive, and by mid-morning we were preparing to go out into the -26 degree sunshine and wind.

Again, we checked our gear out and started our camp stoves to make sure they worked. We prepared several thermoses of hot chocolate and packed our favorite Hoffman Hots and Coneys to cook over the stoves. We had dry kindling wood and paper to start a fire and some emergency gear and tarps just in case. We went straight out the back door and headed up toward the mountain, with clear skies and blowing wind and snow in the open areas of the trek. It was a dry but deep and slow-going snow. We were looking for the same spot we had last year because it had been very sheltered, but we were unable to find it and had to settle on a spot that was a bit more exposed. The kids helped stamp out a spot, collected firewood, started a fire, and lit the stoves for the hotdogs. Neither stove was up for the challenge as the Optimus 111B, famous for its rugged utility. It was filled with old white gas, which lit at the lodge, but that wouldn’t heat up in the wind. The propane stove just could not produce enough of a flame in the below zero temperatures. The fire was being finicky and very smoky. It was critical decision time; we needed to make good choices. We could feel the temperature dropping, and the kids were not having as much fun with that wind chill. Toe warmers, boots that fit, and something to break the wind helped. We rallied the kids and had them start back toward the lodge. Then we put the fire out, packed up with very cold fingers, and followed the team back. As we walked everyone warmed up a bit and were in good spirits. Back in the kitchen, the hotdogs were fried on the stove, and then the kids went back outside to run their sleds down the track.

Sunday evening Sean headed home, while the seven of us hunkered down, started dinner, and packed. Russ and the family were leaving around 7 a.m. Monday. We knew this would be a cold night, so we kept the stoves pumping the heat. It was still cool in the morning when I woke us for breakfast around 5:40 a.m. The water line was frozen, but we had enough water in our supply to finish our visit. The temperature was definitely a factor as Russ loaded his truck. Each opening of the door flooded the kitchen with a chill. Breakfast was a bit of a sullen affair as the fun was over and we had to close the lodge. We hugged them goodbye and waved as they headed for home – good friends, good food, and a real good time.

My daughter and I dressed in our warmest clothes, vests, and hats for the remainder of the day as we cleaned and prepared to close the lodge. Our last task was to winterize the water systems with -50 degree RV antifreeze. This generally went quickly, but this time it was a bit slower than usual. When I went outside to retrieve the antifreeze, it was frozen! We had to thaw it out to pump it into the water system, the hot water heater, shower, and toilet. That is how cold it was at the Moosehead Mountain Hangover Lodge!

We planned our adventure, lived comfortably, were well fed, enjoyed our time, and would recommend the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival to anyone. We worked through a number of weather-related challenges, learned a few things in the process, returned home safely, and can’t wait it do it again!

PPBI generally presents a workshop at DRJ Spring World in Orlando, Fla., and DRJ Fall World in San Diego, Calif. Topics vary, but the focus on incident management relates to attendees across the spectrum. The latest of these highly interactive workshops keyed on the new reality of terrorism threats to public and private entities and personal safety. The PPBI team guided attendees through the differences between the conventional view of terrorism and how the threat is evolving.

Exposure to the practical experience of the facilitators in addition to recognized industry standards benefits both the public and private sectors during this workshop. The facilitators demonstrated the use of the PPBI Incident Command System checklist to assess one’s capability to assemble, coordinate, collect, and channel the resources required for critical incident management. The tools are free, the simulation authentic, and the class is practical, immediately useful, and fun! Please join us at a future DRJ venue and be part of the solution!

Towne-exclusiveDeidrich E. Towne Jr., MBCP, MBCI, is senior technical consultant for Hewlett Packard and chairperson for Private & Public Businesses, Inc. (PPBI).