Emergency responders share winter health, safety advice

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. - The cold is keeping doctors and nurses busy at local hospitals and worrying firefighters who are concerned frozen ponds and lakes will give skaters a false sense of security.

Firefighters have a simple rule when it comes to the safety of frozen ponds and lakes.

“We always tell everyone no ice as safe. Always act as if it’s fragile, because there’s no way to really tell,” said Firefighter Mark Barnhart, Pattonville Fire Protection District.

Cellphone video from three years ago showed Pattonville and Maryland Heights firefighters rescuing a man who saved his dog who went through Creve Coeur Lake. It underscores just how dangerous frozen bodies of water can be.

“We’re prepared for it," Barnhart said. "It’s one of our specialties and we’re ready to respond any moment."

Barnes Jewish Hospital has treated about five people in recent days for cold related injuries. SSM St. Louis University Hospital and SSM’s six other local hospitals emergency room staff have treated 17 people for hypothermia and three for frostbite.

“We have to be very, very, aggressive with those types of patients that are hypothermic,” said Helen Sandkuhl, a nurse at SLU Hospital.

Sandkuhl and emergency room employee Tom Allen showed how they treat a patient injured by the cold.

First an extra hospital gown is worn. Doors are closed to cut off drafts and thermostats raised. Blankets that are stored in a special warming device are draped over the head. Warming lights are then employed and they cover feet and hands.

Sandkuhl said she has treated some seriously cold people during her long career.

“I have to tell you that I’ve taken care of so many patients they didn’t register on a thermometer their body temperature,” she said.

The medical staff also uses saline that’s been warmed and a device that blows warm air around patients’ bodies.

“I remember having a patient that collapsed outside in the freezing rain and when they brought him in the emergency department, his boots were frozen to his feet and we had to cut his clothes off. It was like cutting through ice so he survived,” Sandkuhl said.

The frozen water could become even more dangerous this weekend as temperatures rise.