Staying Safe and Warm During Northland Winters

By KBJR News 1

January 10, 2011 Updated Jan 10, 2011 at 2:58 PM CDT

But our frigid temperatures can turn deadly if we're not properly prepared.

Earlier this week the Itasca County Sheriff office received its second call this year to respond to a severe exposure case.

"We found an adult female who had perished from what we believe a slip and a fall where she was unable to regain composure and perished because of the elements," said Terry Snyder, Chief Deputy with the Itasca County Sheriff Office.

Chief Snyder says dangerous exposure to the elements may be more common in the Northland than many think.

"We become very complacent. But I really think a lot of people suffer from minor indications of hypothermia and they just don't know it," said Snyder.

While both age and health can be factors in how long it takes for hypothermia to take hold, emergency medical experts say it can take only minutes in our cold weather.

"When hypothermia sets in, that's when your body still has the tools to bring it (heat) in and your body is just trying to equalize the cold with the heat your body generates. Once it is not able to warm itself anymore, that is when hypothermia sets in," said Karen Calaguire, EMT Coordinator with the Nashwauk Ambulance service.

Medical experts in Duluth say it was a severe case of hypothermia that nearly took the life of Duluth resident Janice Goodger when she fell in a snow bank two years ago.

"I was so weak by then and I couldn't and I just laid down and covered myself up as best I could and say god take me or leave me," said Goodger.

A medical team at St Luke's performed a major blood transfusion that ultimately saved Janice's life.

A slow re–heating of the body is what experts recommend.

Rubbing the extremities or drinking hot liquids are discouraged when dealing with hypothermia.

"Just remove any wet clothing, apply some warm blankets, even just slip on a pair of warm gloves if it happens to be your hands; put on a warm cap: something that is just going to start warming you," said Calaguire.

Experts say letting someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back, or keeping a cell phone with you, can help keep you out of danger.

Emergency responders say they see almost half a dozen severe hypothermia cases every year.