Locked Inside a Freezer, But What Happened Was Priceless

I Love Lucy

In the early 1960s, I recall watching Lucille Ball getting locked in a freezer on her legendary comedy program “I Love Lucy.” Somehow that episode stuck with me into adulthood. As Director of Facilities Management at HEB Food/Drugs in Texas for over 25 years, I had heard of people being locked in freezers, but was thankful it never occurred in our stores, warehouses or manufacturing plants.

We made sure all walk in freezers had interior opening mechanisms and checked/maintained them frequently to prevent a catastrophe. When I served as President of the Professional Retail Maintenance Association, we emphasized the importance of prevention in design, procurement, training and maintenance.

Although they are rare, instances of workers sustaining an injury or losing their lives as a result of being locked in a freezer do occur. These types of accidents are extremely dangerous, especially if the trapped employee is unable to call for help or must wait until the next day for aid.

Obviously, victims are primarily at-risk of suffering from exposure to cold. Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body temperature drops significantly below the normal level of 98.6 degrees fahrenheit. There are three basic levels of hypothermia:

  • Mild hypothermia, which occurs when the core body temperature lowers to between 93.2 degrees and 96.8 degrees fahrenheit;
  • Moderate hypothermia, which begins to take place when the core body temperature drops to between 73.4 degrees and 89.6 degrees fahrenheit; and
  • Severe or profound hypothermia, which takes place when the core body temperature drops to between 53.6 degrees and 68 degrees fahrenheit.

A person suffering from hypothermia will usually begin to feel lethargic and fatigued well before reaching the severe hypothermia stage. Victims may become confused and disoriented and may also exhibit slowed breathing or speech as well as a loss of feeling in the hands and feet. Once a person’s core temperature has reached severe hypothermia levels, he or she is at a high risk of cardiac arrest and death.

Workers could also suffer from breathing in carbon dioxide, which is emitted by dry ice and can be fatal. Exposure to refrigerants, which function as cooling agents and include chemicals, such as chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloride can also be dangerous. These types of chemicals are toxic in large quantities and can also lead to oxygen deficiency, especially when in a small place.

Even workers who are not trapped for a significant amount of time can sustain injuries. For instance, brief exposure can cause frostbite, which occurs when a person’s skin and underlying tissues are frozen. Generally, the lower the temperature in the freezer, the more quickly frostbite is likely to occur.

Locks on exterior are a definite no-no.

Frostbite is also more likely to affect the extremities, such as the feet and hands, which can be especially dangerous for victims who are also suffering from hypothermia and so have lost feeling in those areas. Frostbite usually takes the form of reddened skin with gray or white patches, numbness, and blisters.

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From award-winning Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey.


  1. The Closest I Ever Got To Hypothermia

    Getting wet and cold hitchhiking from Texas to Kansas.

    I think it was back in the late 1990s when I left Amarillo, Texas. It was around 40 degrees F. I hitchhiked north to Guymon, Oklahoma and got dropped off next to this livestock auction. It was now around 32 degrees F and it was raining/snowing.

    I stood in the rain/snow mix for at least an hour. I was wet and cold, and in the beginning, I was shivering quite a bit. After a while, I quit shivering and began to feel a bit discombobulated–something didn’t feel right.

    Finally, this car pulled over and gave me a ride. This guy was coming from Sante Fe, New Mexico and he was going all the way to Lawrence, Kansas to see his girlfriend. I was grateful to be inside a heated car, but I was not getting warm very fast.

    After a while, I had this guy pull over to a restaurant, so that I could get something to eat. I had some money on me, so I offered to buy him something. I got a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. We got back in the car and headed north. I still was not warm.

    Eventually, he had me drive for him so that he could take a nap. I pulled over twice to get a cup of hot chocolate to help myself get warmed up. After my second cup of hot chocolate, I started to get warmed up.

    We made it to Lawrence and I met his girlfriend. She was really beautiful. She made us some supper.

    During supper, I told her, “Your boyfriend saved my life.” She gave him a kiss.

    They wanted to spend some time alone together, so I walked back outside and got into the car and slept there that night. It rained all night and the windshield leaked, so my legs got wet and cold.

    The next morning, I said goodbye to the young couple and walked all over Lawrence looking for an exit to get to Kansas City. This tractor-trailer pulled over and I climbed into the cab.

    The cab was nice and warm. This trucker had to go to Kansas City. We drove to KC and he had to stop at this warehouse dock for over two hours–time for me to get dried out. It was a real blessing.

    After the warehouse, the trucker dropped me off near I-70 and I hitchhiked into Iowa.

    [Published by Digihitch—submitted December 18, 2011]


    Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember the Mushroom Release for the Door Latch, friend did HVAC, I’ve been in quite a few Walk in Coolers and Freezers.

    Panic buttons great idea too. And simply placing the lock on the hasp and locking it will prevent it from being locked by someone else, and an inspection done by the key holder before removing the lock can show the space to be free of trapped people.

    I’m neurotic, if there’s a procedure to follow where the possibility of harm is great, I’d do it reliably, no assumptions, I always joke with my wife, saying I’m from Missouri, the Show Me State (I’m from Pennsylvania actually). Neurotics can be valuable employees if only mildly neurotic. We’re wiring field limit switches on a process, me (it was my area) and a guy that was a residential electrician when he wasn’t at work. Wire nuts, you’re supposed to spin them on and tug each wire gently. He wasn’t tugging. I moved him to the side to check the wire nuts and the wires were falling apart.

    Profound neurotics can hinder things though, I saw a guy, years ago, adding air to his tire, testing, letting some out, testing, adding more. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still there doing it. He was caught in a loop. When he tested, he let a little air out, I think he was trying to account for that loss. Ouch.

    Great article, and the man hitchhiking in the cold, great post too.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I’d say so, but the more OCD type drives became procedure oriented as I aged and following procedures can be beneficial in many cases. I was called in on a weekend to help change a Grounded Electric Motor. Procedure says to de-wire it at the Motor Junction Box and Test it. When I arrived, that had not been done, they tested it from the bus and they were preparing to pull the motor with a Crane. I tested it from the Motor with the Feeder Leads disconnected, the motor was fine, the short was at the Bus end, and they knew from an Infrared Temperature Analysis that it was overheating on the back of the Breaker (at the Bus), but they didn’t stop the motor to address it. I didn’t know this until after the fact. But I saved the crane lift, pointless replacement of the motor, alignment of the motor to the pump by the mechanical group, and more, just by following the procedure. Neurosis doesn’t always pay off, but a mildly neurotic employee is likely to be a more detail oriented one.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. We had a freezer with a lock that could be unlocked from the inside. Every employee had a key and had to show it on the chain around their neck to work. Personal accountability. Non key, no work. I swear those locks came off a Chevy door.

    Liked by 1 person

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