When the fire department arrived on scene Saturday afternoon to M’s Pub, firefighters went into attack-mode.
But the the bitter cold weather and natural gas, which continued to leak for at least 90 minutes, made their task even harder, according to the Omaha Fire Department.
As crews went searching for people in the historic building, located between 11th and Howard streets, firefighters say the conditions they faced during the Old Market fire made it one of the worst they have ever fought.
“The temperature was hovering around zero. As the sun went down, the temperature – the wind chill went down to I think about negative 20,” says Tim Klein, a paramedic shift supervisor with Omaha Fire Department
During a news conference Wednesday at the department’s headquarters, firefighters recounted their experience of the cold weather and its impact on their gear.
“Their self-containing breathing apparatus was freezing up,” says Battalion Chief Matt Carmichael. “The concern at that point is with all that water, that mist kind of flying around –sometimes guys would be up there with their masks on – it wasn't functioning then.”
Jeff Sparr shared his experience of how his equipment kept failing him.
“I had issues myself with my mask. It froze up it wouldn't work anymore,” Sparr says. “I had to get another air mask. The rescue unit was there and then eventually that one wouldn't work either. My radio froze on so I had to turn it off.”
Fire crews on big calls like this one always rotate in and out – giving them a chance to take a breather in their rehab area.
But it was the kindness of shop owners at the Old Market, who offered hot drinks and food, that nourished their bodies and their sense of community – knowing they are not alone in fighting this fire.
Most of these guys have one thought one their minds that still amazes them.
As one firefighter says, “That nobody was seriously hurt or killed at that – [it] is a miracle.”