OTTUMWA — Driving in snowy and icy conditions can be intimidating, but emergency responders said it doesn’t have to be.
The Ottumwa Fire and Wapello County Sheriff’s Department have to be prepared to drive in any condition. Assistant Fire Chief Vince Wilcoxson said firefighters stay safe when driving on icy roads by using emergency lights and not stopping in the middle of the road. Speed is also reduced when responding to an emergency.
“Reduced speed and safety rules apply to everyone — firefighters and residents,” he said, “reducing speed allows everyone to get there safely and still get the job done. Let someone know you’ll be late. If you’re driving in a 35 zone, go 25.”
Deputy Don McMartin agreed. “Like any person, we drive with our seat belts on,” he said. “Safety and reducing speed applies to pavement and country roads,” he said. “You really have to make sure you drive slower than you would. If they [residents] have trouble driving around, we have trouble, too. Driving slow still allows us to respond to an emergency even if it takes longer to get there.”
Wilcoxson and McMartin said an emergency safety kit should stay inside a person’s vehicle in case they get stranded. “Make sure they keep their cellphone with them if they are driving or standed,” McMartin said, “so they can call for help.”
Although Midwest weather can be unpredictable, McMartin said it doesn’t hurt if residents prepare themselves before winter conditions arrive.
Wilcoxson said a person should examine their vehicle before driving in snowy or icy conditions. He said if a substantial amount of ice surrounds car door handles, one should use a De-Icer, or place cardboard on the sides and over windshields. Attempting to use force when opening door handles with ice around could potentially crack the handles.
Safety on the road, of course, involves being aware of surroundings, too. Often times, residents will encounter snow plows, which can often travel at speeds of five to 35 mph, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation’s website.
Due to the speed of plows, IDOT does not recommend attempting to pass plows, especially with low visibility. Rather a person should reduce speed, maintain a safe distance and be prepared to stop if a snow plow needs to take evasive action.
“Never pass a snow plow on the right,” IDOT’s website said. “Many snow plows are equipped with a wing blade that expands to the right and may be hidden by blowing snow. Move as far away from the center line of the pavement as you safely can when meeting a snow plow on a two-lane road. When two or more snowplows are working together to clear a multi-lane road, do not attempt to pass.”
Wherever a southeast Iowan travels this winter, McMartin said danger can occur even if safety is a top priority on roads.
“Everyone needs to drive with common sense,” he said. “Accidents can still happen, but there’s less of a chance if you drive slow and with caution. Don’t be out there if the roads aren’t safe.”