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Police, fire department crews dress for warmth, not appearances

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When it gets this cold, forget the uniforms.

Police and fire departments were backing off uniform requirements to allow officers and firefighters to dress warmer for the weather. Their latest challenge: Freezing sweat.

White River Township and Franklin firefighters were being allowed to dress for the cold instead of donning their uniforms. Greenwood police officers also aren’t being required to wear their normal uniforms, since officers might have to be out in the cold to help a stranded driver or respond to an accident, Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said.

Firefighters have to balance how many layers they choose to wear because they could get sweaty inside a heated home for a medical call and then their sweat would freeze when they get outside, Franklin Fire Department spokesman Chuck Ridpath said.

Firefighters also were spending more time outside because of snowy conditions, Ridpath said. During one medical call, workers spent more time getting a patient to an ambulance because a car was parked in the driveway, heavy snow was piled up in the yard and everything was icy, he said.

If firefighters have to respond to a large fire, they likely will call in additional fire departments because of the cold, Ridpath said. That would allow more firefighters to rotate in and out and stay warm, since any water on a firefighter’s gear will freeze almost instantly, he said.

Local workers who have to be outside in freezing temperatures are wearing layers of warm clothes and taking lots of breaks inside warm vehicles to fight the subzero cold.

Temperatures in Johnson County were about 10 degrees below zero for most of Monday with wind chills dipping even lower. That kind of cold requires planning to avoid frostbite.

The U.S. Postal Service was attempting to deliver mail, but making no guarantees they’d be able to finish all routes. Poor road conditions meant more opportunities for mail carriers to get their vehicles stuck in snow or ice on neighborhood streets.

“It’s slow going. You take it easy and make sure safety is your main priority. We don’t want anyone out there suffering from frostbite or getting injured,” Greenwood postmaster Rob Ford said.

Utility companies are sending more workers to power outages in order to keep warm. Workers are out in the cold and often have to go up in bucket trucks where they are exposed to more wind.

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