"The heat isn't just a problem in the hot summer months, but in winter too," said Cartersville Fire Department Chief of Training Ronnie Cowart. "Dehydration is a big problem then."
Firefighters are advised to maintain a regular water intake as it takes three days to become properly hydrated, according to Cowart. Coolers with water and Gatorade are always on hand to help fire personnel stay healthy.
"The equipment and gear is designed to hold heat out, but it also keeps body heat in," said Cowart. "That adds about an extra 50 pounds."
In training environments as well as on emergency scenes, the time one can spend in the hot zone is limited. "We rotate people out to prevent dehydration and other problems and teach everyone to recognize the symptoms," Cowart said. "These guys look at each other and say 'you're not sweating so you're dehydrated' and that helps. Recognition of problems can avoid the severe issues."
Another key aspect of keeping firefighters safe throughout the years and to maintain a healthy body temperature is rehabilitation.
"We have cooling chairs for active cooling," said Cowart. "They have pouches in the arms with ice and water where we can put the firefighter's arms in to come into contact with the veins and cool the body faster. We do this when we're coming out of a hot environment as a way to cool down faster. We also keep a shaded cover over areas and have bottles with fans and water mist in the trucks.
"Towels in the water coolers help too. A cold cloth on the back of the neck or head feels great," he said.
If a firefighter suffers a heat related injury, he or she must first be cleared by a doctor before returning to work. Before entering a fire environment for training purposes, Cowart stated that a baseline blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen level must be met by every person. "NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) requires that we have EMS on site when we enter a training area," said Cowart.
For definitions of all heat related illnesses, a list of symptoms and first aid tips, visit the Center for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress.