By Jim Pollard, AMR Central MS Public Affairs Manager
Old Man Winter can be deadly, even in the Deep South. Vehicle crashes on wintery roads, falls on ice and, to a lesser degree, hypothermia are very real threats. Following, are some important steps you can take to get you and your family through winter weather perils safe and sound.
If you’re not skilled at driving on icy roads, stay home.
If you must drive, slow down well below speed limits. Give yourself extra time to reach your destination.
Allow more space between you and other vehicles.
Remove all ice and snow from windshields, windows, mirrors, headlights and tail-lights. Defog windshields thoroughly. Turn on your low-beam lights.
Be sure your tires, brakes, battery and windshield wipers are in good shape. Don’t let your fuel run low.
Drive on interstates and divided four-lanes whenever possible. Two-lane roads have more head-on collisions.
Brake only if you must. Do not “pump” anti-lock brakes. Just step on the pedal once, slowly, gradually, and steadily.
Slow down before crossing bridges and patches of ice and before heading down hills. Some ice is invisible. It’s called “black ice” because it looks as though the pavement ahead is normal.
If you skid, take your foot off the gas pedal and shift into NEUTRAL. Turn your steering wheel in the direction the rear wheels are skidding. For example, if your vehicle’s tail skids to your right, turn your steering wheel to the right until the vehicle straightens out. Shift back into DRIVE and gently accelerate.
If you crash, pull all the way off the road. Turn your flashers on. Get out on the passenger side and stay there. Other drivers are more likely to run into the driver side of the vehicle.
Make sure everyone in the vehicle is buckled up on every trip.
In your trunk, carry a couple of burlap bags or short planks and a shovel to help with traction.
Pack an emergency bag for your vehicle that contains a blanket, extra clothing, bottled water, some cereal bars, pop-top canned food or other easy-to-open food.
Be sure your cell phone has a good charge.
Wear shoes or boots that fit well and have non-slip tread.
Watch the path ahead. o Bend your knees a little and slow down.
Wear gloves or mittens and keep your hands out of your pockets. That way, you can use your arms to balance yourself and, if needed, to soften a fall.
Hold onto railings and stable objects, particularly on stairs.
Don’t step out on stairs or steps before clearing them of ice.
Don’t carry more than you can handle easily. Heavy loads impair balance.
If you must walk in the road, face the traffic and walk close to the curb.
Wear bright clothing so drivers can easily see you.
Ice can prevent cars from stopping. Before stepping into the street, make sure all approaching vehicles have stopped.
Earmuffs, hats and scarves that cover your ears can make it hard to hear nearby vehicles. Stay warm AND alert.
HYPOTHERMIA: Hypothermia is dangerously low cooling of the body’s internal temperature. Though rare, hypothermia can and does happen in the Deep South. (Listen up hunters and fishermen. That includes you.) The risk is high for someone outdoors who gets wet, stays wet and has extensive exposure to frigid wind chill. Hypothermia can also occur indoors such as in homes without heat. Elders, lost and homeless people and substance abusers are particularly susceptible.
Hypothermia victims go through stages of shivering, numbness, confusion, drowsiness and, eventually, they become unconscious. Unless emergency aid is provided, hypothermia can be fatal, and it can happen more quickly than you might realize.
Wear at least three layers of clothing, even indoors. Layering conserves body heat. The inner-most layer should be polyester or similar material to wick moisture from your skin. The next layers should be bulkier, providing more insulation. Wool is good unless you are at risk of getting the wool soaked. Outdoors, the top layer should resist rain, sleet or snow and have zippers for venting body heat when you get warm.
Wear a stocking cap or a hood that covers all of the face except the eyes, nostrils and mouth. A high percentage of body heat is lost through the head.
Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves.
Immediately remove clothing that gets wet and layer on another dry outfit.
Indoors, keep at least one room in the home at a comfortable temperature. Shut doors to rooms not in use and close heating vents in those rooms. Conserve heat with towels or blankets jammed at the bottom of doors. Closing curtains cuts heat loss through windows.
First aid for hypothermia: Remove the person from the cold setting if possible. If the patient is outdoors, shield him or her from the wind. Give CPR if needed. Remove wet clothes and wrap the person in warm materials. If – and only if – the victim is alert, give warm, non-alcoholic drinks. Never give anything by mouth to someone who is less than fully alert. Treat the patient gently. Call 911 immediately for trained, equipped help.
American Medical Response (AMR) is a leader in the emergency medical services sector. AMR in Central Mississippi serves nearly 20 counties. For more information visit www.amr.net/home/central-ms.