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Stay in Your Car No Matter What: Professor Popsicle

January 17, 2015 5:58 PM | News

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht

Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht wraps himself in a sleeping bag during a cold weather training demonstration at La Barriere Park south of Winnipeg on Saturday, January 17, 2015. (CHRISD.CA)

WINNIPEG — It’s a decision every motorist is faced with should their vehicle break down on a rural road in the winter. Do you stay inside and wait for help to arrive or leave your vehicle to seek assistance on your own?

Staying inside your vehicle will keep you alive, says Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, Professor of Thermophysiology at the University of Manitoba.

“If you’ve driven somewhere where no one is coming, you do have the assumption that nobody is ever going to come by and find you — that one is right,” Giesbrecht said.

But the key is not to panic. Someone will eventually find you, or loved ones will contact authorities and a search will be initiated, Giesbrecht assured.

Also known as Professor Popsicle for his cold-weather training, Giesbrecht is leading training sessions this weekend in Winnipeg for Manitoba’s search and rescue community called “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Various sessions in different provinces focus on different scenarios. Lost hunters and stranded motorists are the focus of the Manitoba exercises. The sessions will eventually be published online and on DVDs.

Giesbrecht says planning for a worst-case scenario involves being prepared to stay at least one night or longer in your vehicle and maintaining warmth. Having a well-stocked emergency kit will be the first thing you should assemble, including having a complete set of extra clothing, such as pants, socks, winter boots, an extra jacket, toque, mitts, and non-perishable food items, such as a few chocolate bars.

Throwing in a sleeping bag can also insulate your body and keep you warmer for longer. Placing a candle on your dash will also not only help to take the edge off temperature-wise inside your vehicle, but act as a signal to any other motorist who happens to come across you on the road.

“They’re rare events. We might hear — in Manitoba — of three a year, of these cases with stranded vehicles,” Giesbrecht added.

Prevention tips:

  • Fill tank with gas before leaving urban areas
  • Drive safely and according to road conditions
  • Stay on high traffic roads


  • In case your vehicle is stranded you must perform the correct actions to survive
  • Make reasonable attempts to get the vehicle unstuck, restarted, etc.
  • Never leave the vehicle to go for help
  • If you have cell service, call for help.
  • Get emergency gear in passenger compartment
  • Dress in one set of emergency clothing
  • Run the vehicle and vehicle’s heater periodically, balancing conservation of available gas and keeping the interior of the car warm. NOTE: take care to open a window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. If your candle goes out, that is a sign that carbon monoxide has displace the oxygen and it is time to turn off the engine and open the window more. Before running your engine, make sure the tail pipe is clear of snow or other obstructions.
  • Light the candle and place it on the dashboard, it will provide some heat and a signal for approaching motorists.
  • Get in the sleeping bag, do up the zipper completely and pull it up to your head.
  • Wait for someone to find you.

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