Firefighting is dangerous work at any time. But during the heat of the Texas summer, the risks increase exponentially. Whether its heat cramps (involuntary muscle contractions), heat exhaustion (weakness, nausea, extreme fatigue) or heat stroke (caused by extremely elevated body temperature), firefighters need to know how to protect themselves and so do you.
The Sugar Land Fire Department has a procedure called rehab (rehabilitation) for our emergency responders. This time of year, the company officers are keeping an eye on the temperatures and humidity that make up the heat index. In general, anytime firefighters are operating in an emergency outdoors with 90 degree temperatures and at least 40 percent humidity, the heat stress level requires a rehab sector be established. We add 10 degrees when protective clothing is worn and 10 degrees more when in direct sunlight. The purpose of rehab is to keep the fire crews rotating in an effort to handle an emergency without becoming victims to heat illness. The area selected for the rehab sector is located in the shade where firefighting equipment and safety gear can be removed. The firefighters can be evaluated and rehydrated and then possibly returned to the incident.
The re-hydration fluid of choice is water. Sports beverages and juice should be diluted 50/50 with water. It is recommended that all fluids be chilled to 50-60 degrees. Alcohol, caffeine sugar and carbonated beverages should be avoided before and during heat stress, as they contain elements that must be digested, a process that requires water.
If you normally operate in an air conditioned environment, have underlying health conditions and or lead a somewhat sedentary lifestyle, you will want to heed the same warning prior to engaging in activities outdoors this time of year. If you know of this activity in advance, then cut back on the items listed above and drink electrolytes the day before. The day of this activity, consume water only and monitor how you’re feeling. If you experience mild dizziness, nausea and or cramps, then retreat to a cool area and rehydrate. If your condition worsens, call 911 immediately. Don’t become a victim to the Texas summer heat!