I recall a night early in my career, it was 0100 hours, the temperature was -22 degrees, and I was in my squad all night with the defroster blasting to keep the windows from icing up. With all that hot air on blowing on the windscreen, I had to take off my jacket to be a bit more comfortable in the car. Soon enough, I met up with a little rattle trap of a car driving about 30 miles-an-hour above the speed limit, so I decided to make a stop. I flipped the switch and the chase was on, going round and round in a rural town of about 200 people until we ended up facing each other head on, the driver bailed out and ran away.
Thinking I was a faster runner than I actually was, I bailed out of the car with my aluminum flashlight and began the foot chase with no coat and no gloves. By the time I caught the driver we were three quarters of a mile from my squad wrestling in about three feet of snow — a dumb young deputy, bare handed, no jacket. Having my wet hands exposed in the cold temps made it almost impossible to manipulate my snap on my handgun holster, and putting handcuffs on was almost impossible. By the time I got the handcuffed driver got back to my squad, I could not even get my keys out of my pocket to open the car door. My ears and face were frostbit.
Cold Can Kill
Fortunately for me, that night my bad guy was a dumb, unarmed drunk who was trying to get to his trailer to evade arrest. Had this been a situation where I would have had to shoot straight and manipulate a magazine into my handgun or shells into my shotgun, I would have been in real trouble. Lesson learned.
The challenges of winter require us to put an extra element of preparedness into our routine. We drive around with long guns, extra ammo, and other gear close at hand “just in case.” However, many officers still start their beat in the dead of winter wearing uninsulated boots, baseball caps, paper thin gloves, and are in no way prepared for the possible cold weather scenarios we could face. Like many things we do, it is easy for us to go to work night after night without that big event that puts our lives in jeopardy, We forget that exposure to the cold can kill us as fast as any bad guy. For many of us, all it takes is that unprepared foot chase — or being assigned to a perimeter detail standing in two feet of snow with a long gun for several hours at a standoff — for us to learn to dress warm and dress smart.
Think about the environment your average rural officer works in. You are alone in remote areas in some of the worst conditions that Mother Nature can throw at you. We go to work everyday knowing that backup is quite a ways away, if you have any available backup at all. A downed officer in frigid weather is a pretty dangerous situation. It doesn’t matter if you are suffering from a gunshot wound, you’re trapped in a squad that just crashed, or just broke an ankle during a foot pursuit — being stuck out in the elements unprepared and waiting for help to get to you is something we need to prepare for.
The good news is that we can do this very simply for a minimum expense.
Low-Cost Life-Saving Kit
In addition to good quality boots, socks, and gloves, I like to have an emergency kit that is always with me “just in case” because there are plenty of situations you might be involved in where you will forget or lose gloves and hats or worse, become an officer who is injured someplace waiting for help to arrive, in the country that can take a while.
There are a few simple items that may help you in a cold weather crisis:
1.) Plastic trash bag — can be used as something to sit on, or a cover up if you have torn clothing to prevent being exposed to the elements or just to sit or lay on if you are injured in the snow
2.) Thin Wool/fleece gloves — in case your other ones are sitting on the dash of the squad, cheap wool military surplus glove liners work well, don’t take up much space, and the wool will still help you even when wet.
3.) Oxygen-activated hand warmers — they come in all sizes, last several hours, and can be placed in gloves, boots, hats, and vest or just to keep our hands warm when standing on a perimeter someplace
4.) Snowmobile balaclava — this thin piece of headwear made to be worn under a snowmobile helmet can be used to shield your head, face, and neck from the elements and prevent frostbite
5.) Light sticks — the ones you snap and they activate, just in case you are in a situation where you might go unconscious and can’t signal rescuers as to your location, one of these could be deployed to make it easier for help to find you by air or night vision
Easy to Carry
Want an easy way to carry this kit? Figure out which one of your friends, family, or fellow-cops has one of those fancy vacuum pack food savers. Buy them lunch, then put all this gear in a small plastic bag and have them seal it up. Once done you will have a lifesaving kit that you can fit in your average sized cargo pants pocket, jacket pocket, or where ever you can fit it so that it is with you at all times during the winter months. If you need anything from the kit, tear it open and then seal it up when you are done and you are ready for the next time.
In law enforcement, it is important to be prepared for whatever gets thrown our way, a minor injury in freezing weather can become a major problem. These few simple items, along with probably a few ideas of your own can help us stay a little more comfortable, or even make the difference between going home or not should we find ourselves in the cold someplace unprepared.
And for those of your who are wondering... Yeah, I was a Boy Scout.