It’s hard enough sitting outside with a glass of lemonade when the thermometer hits the mid-90s... Try strapping on more than 40 pounds of equipment and attacking a fire.
For the Woodbury Fire Department, staying ahead of the heat takes tactics, preparation and a whole lot of water.
“Stay hydrated before you get into your gear, because you’re not going to be able to catch up in this heat,” firefighter Russ Hawkinson said Monday.
It’s important for a firefighter to “know your body,” he said, and not push too hard.
“Because the heat’s going to win," Hawkinson said.
During hot summer days, the fire department packs coolers full of ice water, but also keeps tabs on how long a firefighter is battling a blaze.
Firefighters rotate between spraying down a fire and taking off equipment and recovering, Fire Chief Todd Johnson said. There’s no set time for the rotation—it depends on the intensity of the fire—and crews also check firefighters’ vital signs during the rotation period.
“You’ve got to be careful that they don’t become a victim as well,” Johnson said.
And they keep an eye out for each other, Hawkinson said.
“A lot of the time you’re the last person to know that you’re pushing yourself too hard,” he said.
Still, Johnson recalled a July fire in the Colby Lake neighborhood a couple of years ago in which at least 10 firefighters had to get IVs afterward.
“We go overboard trying to be careful,” Johnson said.
Hawkinson, who has been a firefighter for more than 24 years, said the gear hasn’t changed much in terms of keeping heat out (and in) over the past decades, but it has become better fitting.
Both also noted that the Woodbury Public Safety Department has responded to a handful of medical calls recently involving elderly residents succumbing to the sweltering conditions, and encouraged people to drink plenty of water and stay out of the heat for extended periods of time.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday released several heat-related safety tips:
- Drink more fluids than usual—but avoid fluids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar. Check with your doctor if you have been advised to limit your intake of fluids or placed on diuretics (“water pills”).
- Stay indoors—in an air-conditioned location, if possible. If your home is not air-conditioned, spending a few hours a day in an air-conditioned public place like a public library or shopping mall will help your body cope with the heat.
- Don’t rely on electric fans. Electric fans will not prevent heat-related illnesses when the temperature reaches the high 90s and above.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
- Never leave people, children—or animals—in a closed, parked vehicle, even with the windows open.
- Check regularly on people who may be at higher risk of heat-related illness—infants and young children, people over 65, people with mental illness, and people with chronic health problems like heart disease or high blood pressure.
- If you must spend time outdoors, try to limit your activity to the cooler hours of the day, in the morning and evening. Try to take rest breaks in shady areas and drink plenty of water.
- Limit physical exercise. Again, when you do exercise, be sure to take in plenty of fluids.
- Taking a cool bath or shower can be an effective way to cool off.
- When you’re outdoors, wear hats and use sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
Signs of heat-related illnesses vary but can include the following: heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and fainting. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which can cause death or permanent disability unless immediately treated. Symptoms of heat stroke include an extremely high body temperature (above 103); red, hot, and dry skin; rapid breathing; racing heart rate; headache; nausea; confusion; and unconsciousness. If heat stroke is suspected, call 911 immediately.
More information about protecting your health during hot weather is available on the MDH Web site at www.health.state.mn.us.