How firefighters battled flames and freezing temps at vacant Fenton hotel


ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Early Friday morning, firefighters across the region were dealing with multiple fires in the bitter cold. One of the bigger scenes was a three-alarm fire at the shuttered Stratford Inn in Fenton, where dozens of firefighters battled flames and freezing temperatures.  

Assistant Chief of the Eureka Fire Protection District, Scott Barthelmass, spoke to the extra challenges the frigid temperatures caused this morning. 

“This is tough work,” Barthelmes said. “You know if you listen to your own news reports and stuff and how bitterly cold it is and your fingers freeze up very quickly and then you add water to this. So, we’ve got St. Louis County here with salt crews because obviously as we pump water we have those issues, fall issues, everything’s more dangerous for us.”

A crew from the Monarch Fire Protection District also went to assist. 

“Our rescue squad went down to fill air bottles the firefighters wear on their back. They filled approximately 40 air bottles that firefighters were inside fighting the fire, and they start running low on air,” said Captain Dan Allen with the Monarch Fire Protection District.  

Fires increase when temperatures get down into the single digits because many people rely on alternative heating sources.  

Not only is the slip hazard high, but it’s difficult on the crews inside fighting the fire. They work up a significant sweat inside their gear then come back outside into the freezing temperatures soaked to the skin. 

“This time of year they get cooled down too quickly and it’s very difficult and that’s why we had the metro warming bus there this morning to help warm these guys up,” said Battalion Chief Dave Schmitt with the Monarch Fire Protection District.  

Battalion Chief Schmitt said the exterior work on the fire scene is difficult with everything. 

“The hoses if you don’t keep the water flowing they’ll freeze solid or they’ll freeze to the ground. It doesn’t take long for the water. We’ve had times where we’ve had to get a flatbed truck in and take the hoses back to the station in frozen chunks basically,” Schmitt said. 

And extra personnel is also needed. 

“Everything that we do this time of year is more calculated. The ambulance guys with the stretchers we have little snow cleats we can put on that,” said Schmitt. “The low-temperature wintertime do require more manpower just because of the additional efforts that have to be done. The heat takes its toll in the summer and the cold adds more labor-intensive stuff.” 

Another problem is the ladders get frozen or frozen to the building, and they have to chip away at the ice so they can get them stowed back onto the truck 

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