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Firefighters don’t take any chances in the heat
When firefighters battled a brush fire Wednesday after noon in North Stafford, they weren’t just keeping an eye on the flames. Fire chiefs and paramedics were just as concerned with the health of their crews as the day got hotter.
“You don’t send a whole bunch of firefighters and paramedics to a house fire and have them want to sit around drinking water and Gatorade,” said Joe Grainger, battalion chief in charge of training. Rather, the firefighters just want to do their jobs.
But staying hydrated and being examined frequently in rehabilitation areas ensures that crews are able to do that job, especially in summer months. Extreme heat warnings are issued for this weekend as the mercury could cross the 100-degree mark.
Standing in the sun can add 10 degrees to the actual temperature, said assistant chief Mark Doyle. And for firefighters wear ing 50 pounds of turnout gear, it can feel like it’s another 10 degrees. “What the heat does to your body is huge. It’s not just immediate, it’s ongo ing,” Grainger said.
More than 20 years ago, when firefighters would run a call in the heat, they’d go back home afterwards. No precautions were taken for their health, said Doyle. “We’re not going to disregard those vital signs and find out the next morning he passed away,” Doyle said about a time when injuries and casualties were high for firefighters. In 1992, the U.S. Fire Administration published a report recommending rehab areas for firefighters at emergency scenes.
Now, Stafford typically dispatches additional medic units to care not just for any victims of fires or emergency situations, but also for their own crews. Paramedics check vitals, including blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate and do a skin assessment.
“They should essentially be back at baseline,” Grainger added. And if they’re not, fire fighters will recover in the rehab area with fans, misters and plenty of water and sports drinks. “You don’t know when you’ll get a call. You can’t start hydrat ing when the call hits be cause you don’t have time.”
During Wednesday’s brush fire on a hill in the Austin Ridge subdivision, one firefighter remained in the rehab area when paramedics said he wasn’t ready to return to the job. Grainger said because of the heat, training that was planned for Saturday will be earlier in the morning, to avoid the hottest parts of the day.
However, when there’s an actual fire in the summer in the middle of the day, fire fighters must be prepared. Said Granger: “You can’t reschedule someone’s house fire.”