Summer heat is tough for anyone, but firefighters, peace officers, EMTs, and paramedics are at increased risk when heat’s extreme.
First responders are outdoors for extended periods of time, often in the sun. They’re also usually wearing heavy gear such as firefighting equipment, bulletproof vests (for officers), or other bulky protective equipment.
When these factors combine with elevated temperatures, heat stress can set in quickly. So it’s important for first responders and their departments to be well-versed in both the symptoms and best measures for prevention.
Heat-Related Illnesses: A Slippery Slope
Heat stress can progress from mild to life-threatening when symptoms aren’t addressed. Here are the main stages:
Heat Cramps or Rashes – Caused by increased sweating, cramps, and rashes are the first sign of stress.
Heat Exhaustion – At this stage, the body is overheating as a result of excessive loss of water and salt.
Heatstroke – The most serious heat-related illness, heat stroke happens when the sweating mechanism breaks down and is no longer able to cool the body. Heatstroke can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention.
Signs of heat stress aren’t always obvious — brush up on the symptoms of the above conditions here.
Preventive measures can be taken by first responders themselves, as well as their crew members, supervisors, and departments. The most successful heat safety protocols are adopted department-wide and include elements such as:
Hydration – Staying hydrated is the most important tactic for preventing heat illness. Although first responders know the importance of hydration, it can easily be forgotten in the middle of emergency situations. Water should be made accessible at all times to first responder crews, with the encouragement to hydrate well and often.
Knowing the signs – It’s important that both supervisors and team members know the signs of heat stress, both to self-monitor and to look out for their colleagues. Implementing a buddy system where partner pairs observe each other for signs of heat stress is also a good idea.
Rest breaks – Rest periods are essential to ensure that workers can hydrate and cool down. They should occur more frequently when temperatures, humidity, or sunshine increases, when air is stagnant, during especially taxing work, and when workers are wearing protective clothing or gear.
Cooling station – Especially when emergency calls are extended, a temporary set up where responders can retreat and take a rest is important. For instance, some fire stations supply their crews with trailers with a large fan and a mister; some have air-conditioned “rehab trucks” for firefighters on extended calls.
Training – Before the hot weather begins, employers should provide heat stress training to all workers and supervisors so they’re better prepared. When possible, training should cover conditions specific to that work site or area.
Heat alert program – When extreme heat is forecast, it’s important for employers and supervisors to implement a heat alert program, and ensure their workforce is safe and on the lookout.
Acclimatization – First responders can become acclimatized to working in hot environments, gradually increasing their physical stamina and sweating proficiency. Acclimatization is achieved through evidence-based training programs provided by employers.
Fitness — The risk of heat stress increases with obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, lack of physical fitness, and certain medications. All the more reason for first responders to improve their diet and exercise where they can.
Finally, although not a factor in heat illness per se, extensive sun exposure over time increases skin cancer risk. A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that skin cancer risk in firefighters is greater than in the general population. Wearing (sweat-proof) sunscreen should be a daily habit.
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.
It’s summertime and temperatures are quickly on the rise!
Extreme heat is more than an inconvenience though; it is a health hazard. It’s extremely important that we do all that we can to avoid overheating and that we all know the symptoms of heat-related illnesses like:
These are muscular pain or spasms in the leg or abdomen – often the first sign of trouble. Getting a person to a cooler place and hydrating them with water or sports drinks usually alleviates them.
This is much more severe with symptoms of:
Cool moist pale, ashen or flushed skin
Treatment includes moving to a cooler place with circulating air, remove or loosen clothing and apply cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin. Spraying a person with water helps as well as giving small amounts of fluids such as water, fruit juice, milk or sports drinks. If symptoms persist, call medical help immediately
This is a life-threatening condition. Symptoms include high body temperature (above 103 degrees); hot, red skin; rapid and strong pulse; confusion, and possible unconsciousness. Immediately:
Move the person to a cooler place
Cool them with water by immersing them or spraying them
Cover them with ice packs or bags of ice
Children and Pets are at Risk
Don’t forget your precious cargo when the weather heats up. We think that it will never happen to our families, unfortunately, each year an average of 37 children and many hundreds of pets die from being left in hot cars. The majority is the result of a parent or caregiver who forgot the child or pet was in the vehicle. Even on a 70-degree day, the inside temperature can climb to a dangerous 110 degrees.
New technology and apps are being developed to warn parents of a child left in a car or truck, and the 2017 GMC Acadia will be the first vehicle with a built-in sensor that alerts drivers to check the back seat for children or pets left in the car. Until these are tested and more readily available, safety groups have mounted campaigns to prevent child heatstroke danger with these warning tips:
Never leave a child or pet in an unattended vehicle
Keep vehicles locked so children can’t climb in
Always check the back seat before leaving the vehicle
Place a stuffed toy in the car seat when it’s unoccupied and move it to the front seat as a visible reminder when you put a child in the seat
Put a purse, briefcase or other important items in the back seat with your infant or young child
Alert childcare facilities to notify you if your child fails to show up
Call 911 if you see a child alone in a vehicle and take action if you see they are in distress or unresponsive (break a window and remove them to a cool place and wait for emergency responders)
When extremely hot weather hits, these are things you can do to alleviate the danger:
Drink plenty of water and rehydrating sports drinks
Avoid strenuous work during the heat of the day
Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored clothing
Stay indoors as much as possible
Never leave children or pets in a vehicle
Go to a basement or lowest floor of a house or building if there is no air conditioning
Consider spending the warmest part of the day in cool public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, malls, and other community facilities
Spend time at a community pool or water park
Check on family, friends, and neighbors (especially the very young or old) who do not have air conditioning
Ready.gov has an extensive list of recommendations to help keep your home cool when the temperature rises:
Install window air conditioners snugly and insulate them
Check air conditioning ducts for proper insulation
Install temporary window reflectors (such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard) to reflect heat back outside
Cover windows that receive direct sunlight with drapes, shades, awnings or louvers
Keep storm windows up
Your car takes a beating in extreme heat. It’s a good reminder to:
Test your battery
Check your fluids – oil, coolant, and wiper fluid
Get your air conditioning serviced
Inspect all hoses and belts for cracks or tears
Carry extra water or coolant
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.800.800.9410 or www.calcas.com.
Just as hot summer days can be dangerous for people, they also put our 4-legged companions at risk of heat stress.
When the temperature soars this season, follow the 9 tips below to keep your pets safe and healthy.
Never Leave Pets in a Parked Car
In just 10 minutes, the temperature inside your car rises almost 20°F. In 20 minutes, it’s up by 30°F, and in 60 minutes — it’s almost 40°F hotter than the temperature outside. So, even when windows are cracked, your car’s in the shade or “it’ll just take a minute,” never leave your pet in a parked vehicle.
Keep the Water Dish Full
Making sure your pet has plenty of fresh, clean water is important all the time, but especially when it’s hot or humid out. They can get dehydrated quickly, so keep an eye on their bowl (or put an extra out). And on the topic of pet bowls, what’s the gold standard for cleaning? A daily wash with hot water, air-dry, and once-a-week sanitizing.
Watch the Asphalt
On hot days, a rule of thumb is to put your hand on the pavement and wait 7 seconds. If it’s too hot, that means it’s unsafe for your dog’s paws, which can suffer burns. Also, remember pets’ bodies are much closer to the ground, so absorb more of the radiating heat and can overheat.
Mind the Fireworks
They’re why the Thundershirt® was invented. Though some pets are oblivious to fireworks, many are scared and some even terrified. During fireworks-heavy holidays, keep your pets in a quiet, secure area of your home (not outside). And never use fireworks around them, as they can potentially get burned or traumatized.
Don’t Shave Your Dog
Owners of long-haired dogs sometimes get side-eye while out for dog walks in the summer months, but it turns out that dogs’ coats have evolved to protect them against cold and hot temperatures. Leaving his coat au naturel will help him better regulate his temperature and protect against sunburn. For cats, you can brush them more often during hot weather to help them shed.
Know How Pets Cool Themselves
Dogs use panting, not sweating, to keep cool. They’ll also seek shady spots and drink a lot of water to replenish moisture lost through evaporation. A cat’s first line of defense is finding a cool surface or dark place to wait out the heat. They’ll also lick their coats more often, which allows saliva to evaporate and cause a cooling effect.
Watch for Signs of Overheating
Symptoms of overheating include excessive panting, difficulty breathing, weakness or collapse, glazed eyes, increased heart rate, excessive drooling, or vomiting. Their body temperature rises above 104°F and their gum coloration turns bright red, pale or blueish purple. If your pet is overheated, take steps to cool them down (douse them in room temperature water, move them to shade or A/C) and contact your vet immediately. Animals with flat faces (e.g. Persian cats, pugs) are more susceptible to heat stress.
Keep Exercise Light
Limit your pets’ exercise on especially hot days. Shift walks to the early morning or evening and always carry water to keep your dog from dehydrating.
Mind the Humidity
It’s not just the temperature, but the humidity, that affects animals. They pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs (thus cooling themselves), so when the water content in the air rises their cooling system is affected. The more humid, the greater risk they face for overheating. Use extra caution on humid days.
Once you know what to look for and pay attention to, keeping your pets safe in the heat becomes second nature.
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.
As the country takes in terrifying images of the latest wildfires scorching communities in California, Oregon and beyond, Chief Scott D. Kerwood is thinking of the firefighters out working the blaze. He knows that as weary as they may be, many are continually running on empty, worrying more about protecting others than taking care of themselves.
While the business of being a firefighter is physically demanding – even when they’re not putting out house fires or dealing with other emergencies, putting out wildfires is grueling work. And it’s made even more difficult by harsh environmental conditions that cause physiological and emotional stress. That’s why Kerwood says it’s critical for firefighters to take breaks to hydrate, rest, decontaminate their gear and take other important steps to recover. If they don’t take the time to take care of themselves during those arduous emergency situations, Kerwood warned, firefighters, risk causing injuries to themselves and to the colleagues they are supposed to protect.
“The goal is that when they are done with this job, they can go home to their family at the end of their shift — or at the end of their career,” said Kerwood, who serves on the NFPA committee that reviews the rehabilitation guidelines and requirements spelled out in standard 1584.
Given that wildland firefighters are exposed to extreme heat and toxic substances for extended periods of time may make them vulnerable to certain types of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. There are long-term performance and health benefits related to rehabilitation practices for wildland firefighters. Beyond helping to lessen the risk of serious illness, adding services provided on the scene may also help firefighters recover properly so that they’re ready for the next emergency.
Although fire professionals have been urging the rank and file first responders to use incident-based medical services, showers, decontamination stations, and other rehabilitation resources for at least a decade, the recent push to focus on wildland first responders may be in part due to what some industry experts consider troubling trends.
A recent study, for instance, suggests that drier conditions at higher elevations may explain why some wildfires have occurred in areas previously considered ‘too wet to burn.’ Ten-year data suggest that the average number of acres that burned has increased in some regions. In addition, regions are also seeing more and more residential and commercial developments built in wildlands. Because of these additions, it may be more likely that we start to see more of the 1.1 million career and volunteer firefighters in the U.S. putting out wildfires.
Hydrate, Eat, Rest, and Repeat
Firefighters who are seeking guidance or need to review rehab practices and protocols should consult NFPA standard 1584. The materials for this year’s Firefighter Safety Stand Down campaign include helpful studies and handouts on nutrition, mental health, exposure mitigation, and other issues. Kerwood said the first responders should also take the time to study their agency’s rehabilitation action plans.
“They need to be prepared to take care of their own safety, as well as that of the rest of their crew,” he said. “We should, when we check out our apparatus, for example, at the start of the shift make sure that we have all the rehab supplies we need on that truck,” including cooling towels, hydration packs, and breath analyzers that measure carbon monoxide levels in the body.
“Because existing rehabilitation protocols were largely designed for incidents in built environments that have rapid access to medical care, protective equipment and portable facilities, such as decontamination showers, firefighters deployed to wildfires shouldn’t assume that all agencies have the proper gear and supplies for those incidents,” said Nathan Trauernicht, chief of the University of California – Davis Fire Department.
“But that also doesn’t mean the first responders shouldn’t ask for what they need,” he said. “For example, if a department doesn’t have a decontamination shower on the trucks to clean equipment at the scene, firefighters should ask the agency to provide cleaning wipes.
“Still,” Trauernicht said, ”firefighters should follow the basics of rehabilitation every time they take a break. For starters, they must hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate some more — and if possible take electrolytes. Because they burn tons of calories, they should eat foods that help replenish them. Their rehab routine should also include oxygen, blood pressure, and heart rate checks.
Rest, of course, is a must. And if firefighters need grief counseling or other mental health services, they should ask for them.”
More Improvements Needed
According to Kerwood and Trauernicht, while it’s very important for firefighters to diligently follow wildfire rehabilitation practices, they also urge first responders to stay physically and mentally fit. Being disciplined about their exercise, water intake and nutritional habits help them lessen their risk of injury or developing serious chronic illness.
“You may be off duty and not planning on engaging in your regular work activities, but when we send a strike team out, we start doing a station recall or several stations of recall,” Trauernicht said. “And you’re now in a position where you may be next out to go to a significant incident that’s going to require you to be nourished, hydrated, and rested.”
Kerwood and Trauernicht are among fire professionals who say agencies should do everything they can to protect the men and women in their departments who risk their lives daily.
Because it may become more commonplace for firefighters across the nation to work wildfires, Kerwood and Trauernicht said agencies need to accelerate changes to their standard operating manuals to keep up with trends.
They also would like to see administrators be more thoughtful about the protective gear and equipment they buy for their firefighters, because of the different environments they may encounter. For instance, the personal protective equipment firefighters wear for structure fires often isn’t appropriate if they need to fight a wildfire, because they can make them overheat. “When battling a wildfire, it’s about striking the right balance between protecting personnel from the obvious hazards of flames and the oftentimes the less recognized risk of heat stress,” Trauernicht said.
Manufacturers of protective personal gear and firefighting equipment should continue to pursue options that make it easier and safer for firefighters to work on wildfires. Trauernicht said he would also like to see additional research and emphasis on the development of respiratory protection solutions they would be able to use in those incidents.
As more and more studies shed light on the associations between the toxic substances firefighters are exposed to, the newer generations of firefighters are going to demand better PPE, Standard Operation Procedures for rehabilitation operations, and rehabilitation resources.
“If you look at the old photographs, not of just structure firefighters, but you look at wildland firefighters, and you see them with ashes and smudges on their face, and their gear’s nasty,” Kerwood said. “I mean, we all prided ourselves in that. Now, the folks that we’ve got coming in, it’s like, ‘Really? You lived that way?’
Our job as fire chiefs and fire service leaders, therefore, is to make sure ‘Everyone Goes Home.’”
And now that also includes fire leaders doing all they can to protect firefighters from heat stress, chronic disease, and other serious conditions they could develop from fighting fires.
Firefighting is a hot job no matter when you do it. But during the summer months, with all that extra heat and humidity, it can be brutal. How do you keep your cool — and cool down? Read on.
A blazing fire can be 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. In your heavy gear, the perspiration builds up and your core temperature can be as high as 160 degrees. After 20 minutes, you’re exhausted.Couple that with a hot summer’s day and it seems like there’s no relief in sight.
Here are some “do’s and don’ts” to help you cool down and stay safe on a hot summer’s day on and off duty.
Do: Stay hydrated.
Water is your drink of choice. (Or try coconut water which contains potassium, a great source of electrolytes.) Drink water whether you are thirsty or not. And drink it three days leading up to your shift—because it will help keep you hydrated. When you’re fighting an active fire, your body will evaporate 1 liter of sweat for each hour of work. Make sure to replace that loss by drinking electrolyte beverages as soon as you are able.
Don’t: Drink caffeinated beverages, sugared drinks, or alcohol.
Caffeine constricts blood vessels which makes you warm. Coffee, tea and caffeinated beverages are a diuretic, which means they cause you to urinate. Sugary drinks actually make you thirsty and can provide a crash in energy. Alcohol causes dehydration. Drink it the night before your shift and you will feel the effects the next day.
Do: Eat for the heat.
That means light healthy meals so your body doesn’t have to work as hard to process them. Include foods that help replenish electrolytes that are lost through sweating. These include watermelon, peaches, apricots, and radishes. Leafy greens also contain a large percentage of water, which helps keep you hydrated.
Don’t: Eat a heavy meal.
It takes a lot of energy for our bodies to digest a steak dinner. When our body breaks down protein, it creates heat. You don’t have to eliminate meat altogether; just take it easy and substitute more carbs.
When you’re in shape, you have a lower heart rate and body temperature. This allows you to adjust to heat stress twice as fast as your fellow Americans who are unfit.
Don’t: Push your physical limits.
It takes time to acclimate to working in the heat. Start gradually and increase over time. It takes about 10-14 days to get used to it. Listen to your body. It will tell you when you’re ready for a break.
Don’t: Run the air conditioner on the way to the fire.
The temperature change from cool to very, very hot can affect your body. Instead, keep the windows open and the air blowing but the air conditioning off on the way to a call.
Do: Use ice, water, and cooling technology.
Set up a bucket filled with ice water so that you can immerse your hands and forearms. Put a damp towel in the freezer and wrap it around the back of your neck when you need relief. Apply cold pressure to other pulse points: your wrist, chest, temples. Spritz yourself with a garden hose; dribble water down the back of your neck from your water bottle. Try a cold pack vest if it fits under your gear. But stay away from misting fans in a humid environment. They’re good for dry environments, but in high humidity, these fans can increase the chance of burns.