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Winter Weather: First Responders, Red Cross Battle One of Their 'Greatest Villains'

While icy and snowy roads may keep the general public confined to their homes, emergency personnel have a duty to respond no matter what the weather unleashes.

Sergeant Ryan Hendrick of the Ferguson Township Police Department in State College, Pa., said weather can be one of police's "greatest villains."

Dangerous road conditions combined with increased need for police involvement in accidents requires additional effort and diligence from police officers and other emergency responders.

Hendrick stressed the need for reduced travel when conditions have deteriorated.

"[Fewer drivers] would greatly reduce the calls for service on agencies, but these requests are unheeded year after year," he said.

Police officers are also not immune to the dangers of travel.

"Most [police] cruisers are rear wheel drive vehicles that are much less effective in the snow than other vehicles. This slows officer's response time to emergency calls and puts the officers at a higher risk of being in a crash themselves," Hendrick said.

Dangerous winter conditions also increase the demand for the Red Cross' essential services after snow and ice storms.

On Feb. 13, 2014, the Red Cross provided shelter for 700 people across eight states in shelters and warming centers due to the major ice storm that resulted in thousands losing power.

The Red Cross adheres to local official's travel advisories to reduce the strain on emergency services and for the safety of their staff. However, the need for alternate plans during especially severe weather is pertinent for their operations.

"There are times, for example during major events like a snowstorm or a hurricane, when we may even have staff stay at a shelter overnight because we don't want them out in the elements," Anne Marie Borrego, director of media relations for the American Red Cross, said.

When winter storms create dangerous conditions, it is imperative to follow all local officials' warnings on travel and to exercise caution with heating devices in your home to decrease the strain on emergency personnel.

Due to the use of space heaters and candles, Borrego said, "We do see a major spike in home fires in the winter."

An increase in home fires also intensifies the pressure on emergency personnel, requiring both the police and fire departments to respond immediately.

In order to respond efficiently to winter's unique and varying dangers, special precautions must be taken.

"In all four seasons, we are putting plans into place to respond to major weather events. So we're ready to go if and when something happens," Borrego said.

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