This shortage will be first noticed with muscle cramping, which will normally begin with the muscles that are being used the most at the time. Management of muscle cramping is easily managed with the replacement of sodium and water through items such as sports drinks. Severe cramping may require the administration of an IV to replace the needed electrolytes.
Heat exhaustion is more severe than cramping and is also caused by an electrolyte imbalance. The firefighter suffering from heat exhaustion will exhibit profuse sweating, nausea, dizziness, headaches and a body temperature below 103 degrees. Removal from the environment into a cooler one with the administration of fluids will often lead to a rapid recovery, but left untreated these conditions can lead to the more serious condition of heat stroke.
Heat stroke results in the total breakdown of all the body’s systems that regulate body temperature. Body temperature with heat stroke will be 105.8 degrees or higher and the once profuse sweating seen in heat exhaustion will stop, leaving hot, dry, flushed skin. Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately.
Rehab should include both passive and active measures to be most effective. Passive measures such as shade and fans for air movement should also be combined with measures such as chairs that allow hands and forearms to be soaked in ice water baths and misters.
The key to keeping firefighters safe during extreme summer conditions is hydration. Firefighters should be aggressively hydrating throughout the day prior to getting a call. Water is the most important item that should be consumed for hydration. Other liquids such as soda or juices have been shown to slow absorption into the body and can have a detrimental effect in these situations. It is recommended that firefighters consume at least 1 quart of water per hour when working. Fire apparatus should carry drinking water for its crew in case rehab resources are not on scene.
Just as for cold weather firefighting, firefighters should also prepare a personal kit to have with them in the summertime. Some items to be considered include: bottled water, sunscreen, lip balm, long sleeve t -shirts, hats with brims and safety glasses that are tinted.
Extreme summer weather can definitely take a toll on firefighters. However, proper preplanning, training and awareness can reduce the hazards of extreme summer weather firefighting to allow safe fireground operations.
JEFFREY PINDELSKI, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a 20-year veteran and student of the fire service and is the deputy chief of operations with the Downers Grove, IL, Fire Department. Jeff is a staff instructor at the College of Du Page and has been involved with the design of several training programs dedicated to firefighter safety and survival. Jeff is the co-author of the text R.I.C.O., Rapid Intervention Company Operations. Jeff was host of the recent Essentials for Rapid Intervention Deployment webcast and has been on several Firehouse podcasts, including Rapid Intervention East to West, Rapid Intervention Realities Roundtable and the inaugural edition of the Training & Tactics Talk. View all of Jeff's articles and podcasts here. You can reach Jeff by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.