Summer Poses Additional Dangers For Firefighters

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Firefighters have plenty to be aware of every time they are called out to battle a fire, but summer means they also have to pay attention to staying cool.

There are several dangers awaiting firefighters every time they head to a call, but triple-digit temperatures pose another set of potential dangers.

"The guys get out there working extremely hard in this heat and they've got their air packs on and their PPE stuff on, which adds body temperature," said Wichita Fire Department Interim Deputy Chief Tammy Snow.

Hot summer temperatures only add to the hazards firefighters face when they are called into duty this time each year. It's the job of the department's commanders and supervisors to keep everybody safe.

"It's important to us to make sure that they're hydrated," Snow said. "We analyze their well-being and make sure that we rotate them through real quick."

The gear firefighters have to wear, which weighs about 30 pounds and is insulated, is hot anyway. The Kansas summer weather makes it worse.

"You put them in 103 or 104 temperatures and the fatigue factor is really high," said Sedgwick County Fire Department Division Chief Carl Cox. "You get them dehydrated really fast. That's why we call in a lot of extra crews."

Heat was one of many elements firefighters were battling at a field fire near Rose Hill Thursday afternoon. One firefighter was treated for minor heat exhaustion.

When it's hot and commanders know crews will have a lengthy fight ahead of them, they'll call for a mobile rehabilitation unit.

"Part of the rehab process is we do actually take their temperature to make sure that their body temperature is not getting too high," Cox said. "We monitor their pulse and their blood pressure and that type of stuff."

The Salvation Army helps keep area fire stations' stocked with water and sports drinks to ensure firefighters stay hydrated and healthy.

It is also up to every firefighter to keep an eye open for signs of heat exhaustion.

"A lot of times what happens to firefighters is they're awful prideful and they want to ignore their own (warning signs)," Snow said. "But that's where the team work comes in."

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