Winter certainly has taken it’s time coming to our fire district this year! A record absence of precipitation in any form is being remarked on the news almost every day. Temperatures for the latter half of 2012 and the beginning of ’13 have ranged between the lower 20’s to almost 60 degrees, and the rollercoaster ride may not be quite over yet!

It will, however, be over, and when it is we’ll be back to the winter hobby of shoveling and snow blowing. It’s easy in this dearth of cold to become complacent, so let’s instead review a little personal and family safety when it comes to removing that snow and ice from our residences.

For those of you with snow blowers, here are a few essentials to remember, things that haven’t changed a great deal since the first snow blower was introduced in 1953. Number one, and most important: Remember that this is a tool for snow removal, not a toy. It requires diligence and alertness when operating the machine, even for short periods of time. Always check around you when starting and operating your snow blower for debris which could become a flying hazard and children whom may be playing. The blades in the snow blower are not discriminatory towards children and toys; they’ll cut up and throw anything they can. Remember to turn the blower off before cleaning out any clogs. Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and servicing the blower, and don’t take the blower being off for granted! Releasing a plugged set of blades may cause them to suddenly start turning again. If your snow blower comes with a tool for cleaning out debris, use it following the manufacturers’ recommendations!

Of course there’s always the good old fashioned standby, the shovel. For the calorie conscious, a 15 minute spell is considered moderate physical activity, akin to brisk walking or dancing. This is bad news for people whom moderate physical activity or stress can be dangerous, for example-those with heart conditions. The greatest loss of life after large snowstorms is related to the physical activity and strain placed upon the hearts of people doing the shoveling. Shoveling, already a source of higher blood pressure and heart rates, can be made even more problematic if the weather is particularly cold, or you haven’t dressed for the cold properly.

So what to do? If you have a history or heart related problems, don’t tackle the snow head on, get help. Ask your physician if you should be shoveling the snow, and take his advice.

Be careful with the shoveling. Use a smaller shovel to lift less snow (and therefore less weight) with each scoop, and lift properly to protect your back from injury.

Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water before you begin, and avoid nicotine and caffeine. These are stimulants which will increase your heart rate and blood pressure and place extra stress on your heart.

Dress for the weather, using multiple layers to keep warm. You can always take them off if you begin to overheat.

Think of shoveling as a workout, prepare by warming up appropriately-and listen to your body! If something starts to hurt-stop shoveling immediately!

And finally, be prepared for ice, and potential slipping. Keeping your walkways clean means you and your loved ones can get to where you’re going safely, and when you’re out take a moment to check on your neighbors and loved ones, and look around. People who are hurt or have fallen might not be easily visible, after all.

Enjoy the new year safely-one step at a time!