Thread: Heat Tolerance

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    Default Heat Tolerance

    I've been a volunteer firefighter for going on a year and a half now and it seems like everytime the summer comes around, the drills just seem to get alot harder. In that year and a half I've had to stop drilling twice because the heat just gets to me. I'm a young guy, and I consider myself to be in decent shape; I run two or three miles everyday and lift weights etc. But despite this, I see guys who are out of shape and overweight be able to handle all the intense drills in 100 degree heat without having to sit out. This leads me to believe that I have a low heat tolerance which probably stems from the fact that I sweat alot. The body produces sweat to cool it down, so since I sweat alot, my body probably heats up more quickly which leads to a low heat tolerance. My question is this: Do any of you experience this, and if so, what can someone with a low heat tolerance do to get that extra push to finish a long and hard drill on a very hot day?

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    I've got the same problem. I hope someone has some help on this one. I get so sick from the heat I usually sleep most of the next day, and have landed in the emergency room on one occassion; not fun.

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    I've got a stocky build, though I don't carry that much fat, and I sweat heavily as well. Skinny guys have it good because their high surface area to mass ratio (more skin area per pound) makes their cooling systems work much better than bigger guys. Think of it as an oversize radiator.

    Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do about our body types.

    I think getting used to working in heat helps some although I don't have any evidence to back this up. I do know, and the scientific community backs this up, that hydration is what it's all about. If you sweat a lot, you lose a lot of water. If you don't keep your fluid levels up, you can never cool efficiently. Drink lots of water, or diluted Gatorade if water bothers your stomach while you work.

    If you know you are going to be getting hot, drink plenty of fluids beforehand. Avoid caffeinated drinks, decongestants, and other medicines that tend to dehydrate you (they're diuretics).

    It's damn hard to keep fluid levels up (and maybe impossible) while working in turnouts without taking frequent breaks. Our job is not to keep up with the department camels, it's to recognize our own limitations and take a breather before we become part of the problem.
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    Eat right and exercise. Cut the caffiene. Be careful of what over the counter medicines you take. If you have a serious problem with it, see a doctor; you may have a problem with your thyroid. Drink plenty of water, especially if you are a heavy sweater. Heat stroke is a real danger, especially if you become dehydrated. There is quite a bit of info about this on different medical sites on the web. Just Google "heat intolerance".

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    Something like this might help, as well...
    http://www.coolsport.net/index2.html

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    I'm a big guy, and it surprises me how many much smaller/younger guys I've seen with heat problems. Shoot, we had one 18 y/o pass out during our 75th Anniversary parade in June a couple years ago -- we're not talking bunker gear or anything, just dress pants & a short-sleeve shirt!

    I have over-heated once -- extrication drill on a hot, humid June morning in full gear for three hours when I was in my late teens. I told the Chief near the end I had to go home...NOW. Probably spent 1/2 an hour in a cool shower, and the water was genuinely hot by the time it hit my toes...I had to be real close to having a medical emergency from the heat.

    I worked in a plastic molding factory one summer (figure outside temp + 30 degrees...120 degrees and 90% humidity builds character...especially when you're the "floor boy" who does the running so everyone else can stay sitting at their workstations!) Will say ever since then I love to do hard work best on a hot day...just keep feeding me room-temperature water bottles with the occassional half-strength gatorade.

    As for the caffeine Noz mentioned, I agree. I try to limit myself to my one morning coffee now. I sometimes get in a sequence of long days/little sleep and start ticking up my caffeine intake. I'm very sensitive to it, and from experience I've learned if I'm drinking 3 or more caffeniated drinks a day, no vigorous exercise/firefighting till I get back down to one a day. Otherwise I really get out of whack when the adrenaline surges on top of the caffeine.
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    Lightbulb heat stress

    Down here in South Texas the days of summer are scorchers. (mid to high 90's with dewpoints of 70+) We recently had a probie go down, literally, from heat cramps at his first worker...he was laying on the front lawn unable to move without severe and painful cramping. He wound up having to go the hospital for treatment and did not return to work until the next shift. He made two crucial mistakes, 1 was failure to stay hydrated, 2 was failure to let his officer know he was feeling bad...he tried to tough it out.
    Do your best to keep your endurance high in the summer, even though it may be tougher to run outside. You can condition yourself to handle heat better (like our fellas overseas)...but when you are done...you are done, know your limitations. Tell your officer and go to rehab, don't risk further injury. -46

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    Seems everyone is right on track with hydration. I too am stocky 6'1 around 230, mind you maybe 15lbs heavier than I'm supposed to be, but I spend a lot of time lifting wieghts and carry extra muscle in my arms,legs and upper body. Normal heat around here is simlar as to described in texas, we average high eighties-mid nineties with dewpoints in the upper 70's and humidty always thru the roof. We recently did a haz-mat on a real, and I mean realy hot day. In level b for 20 min(or somewhere close) closed up and working. We were doing an overpack. by the time we got done I was getting dizzy waiting for decon. For the second trip I got a turn with the ice-vest, they are the s**t. Tried to hydrate as much as possible before, but not to much help. I can only imagine if I had not hydrated.

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    I have over-heated once -- extrication drill on a hot, humid June morning in full gear for three hours when I was in my late teens. I told the Chief near the end I had to go home...NOW.
    Although you probably really wanted to, trainers and officers should NOT let someone in this condition leave on their own. Also, don't push someone who is exhibiting signs of overheating, and don't let them push THEMSELVES too hard, either. If you notice someone who is exhibiting these signs, and you think they would be embarassed to quit before anyone else does, then use a little tact; stop the whole crew. Nothing irkes me more than some poor bastard nearing heat exhaustion, while some idiot instructor runs them into the ground. Know the signs; recognize them and take care of your brothers and sisters, rookies or not.

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    Although you probably really wanted to, trainers and officers should NOT let someone in this condition leave on their own.

    Indeed Noz...that's an experience that's always stuck with me as something to look for in others.

    That was back in a time when "Rehab" was something you were just starting to see in the trade rags, certainly before we even where carrying Gatorade & Water on the apparatus. At best you got some donuts and coffee, maybe a grinder (none of which quite ranks high on my list of ways to "refresh" ones self while working!!!)

    I do know 100% I didn't truly realize the condition I was in till I got into the shower at home and felt how hot the water coming off my body was. I was an EMT by then and all I could think was "Holy **** this ain't good!"

    That June extrication drill was certainly something started back in the mid-70s before you wore turnouts at extrications (and we have the pics in our photo albums to prove it!)...fast forward to the late 80s and we're still doing it in June wearing bunker coats & bunker pants. And I'm sure nothing had been changed in the way the drills went other than the guys wearing heavier and heavier gear.

    Times continue to change -- the June drill is history, a victim not of better planning but of an EMT course so long now that the local community college can't do them twice a year -- so our old January & June drills we did in conjunction with the new classes are now a single February drill.
    IACOJ Canine Officer
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    Everybody is right on track. I don't know if you normally work outside or inside for a living, but that is indeed a factor. Building up the "tolerance". People who normally work in the heat/sun have built up this tolerance.
    Now, hydration. Correct. But if you want to properly hydrate, do it the day before if you know what is coming the next day. Keep the liquids coming in during. That helps a little more than doing it right before. Don't push too hard and fry your brain, if you are having trouble. The macho sydrome here will land you in the ER.
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    If we're going to be doing some kind of training where it's going to be hot and/or we are going to be hot just doing it in gear, we will make sure our rehab unit is there.

    It's just our back-up ambulance that we have added a few things to:
    - 10 gallon cooler that we fill with ice and water and is used strictly for our misting fan.

    - 4+ Foldable canvas chairs

    - cases of bottled water

    - 2.5 gallon cooler to be used for Gatorade mixes

    - another cooler to be used to keep ice in

    Actually, we are going to have a new rehab unit in the next week (a new frontline squad is in, old frontline will move to back-up) and it will be outfitted with a canopy (like the ones on RVs) that will go off of one side of the box.

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    I am also not a small person and have only overheated once and it was also while not on a run. We were asked many years ago to go to our local marina before it opened and help flow water to move the accumulated debris out. It was a VERY hot day spring day we were in short and some of us had shirts on some did not. I kept on going til the end came home not feeling well and took a tepid shower and slept for a long time. After that day I realized how close I was to just over cookin...........dizzy, sweating, couldnt recall what happened, etc etc....so from now on.........if ya gotta go to rehab then go.
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    Another thing that comes to mind:

    Our town's agricultural fair is coming up next year and I'll be working in the parking lots (our biggest fundraiser). And I'll have my camel back on this year

    Speaking of Camel Backs...one of the coolest, "Oh yeah, this is going to rock..." moments was back in 2000 or 2001 when I took first Breaching & Breaking Concrete & Steel class the state fire academy taught. We all went to the precast plant we'd be drilling at that afternoon...the instructors all stood in front of the class going over the plan and reminding the students to take frequent breaks to stay hydrated...as I realize all of them are wearing Camel Backs...
    IACOJ Canine Officer
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    I'm a big guy too and I sweat BUCKETS.

    I learned the hard way about keeping hydrated. Structure fire in July and I had two bottles of Mt. Dew throughout the morning and nothing else. Got dizzy with muscle cramps in my arms and chest after overhaul. I was sure I was having an MI but luckily no. I was in the ER overnight though and didn't pee until after my fourth or fifth IV bag went through.

    Like Dal, when it starts to get hot out I try to limit myself to 1 Dew a day and drink water the rest of the time.

    I'm also interested in the concept of core cooling and the new rehab chairs with the ice water bags in the arm rests. I know that when I get hot if I stick my wrists under cold running water for a few minutes I instantly feel better. Seems like there's gotta be a way to do this than spending $90.00 on a $5 chair with trash bags in the arm rests though.
    FTM-PTB-DTRT

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    Default Thanks

    Thanks for all the suggestions and tips, but I still can't get over a feeling of whimping out the couple of times this has happened to me. Especially the second time it happened where I just quit in the middle of an evolution while the fellow firefighters in my group, who I consider to be in alot worse shape then I'm in, could carry on. At least the first time I was told to sit out. I feel like a sub-par firefighter in that kind of situation; that I didn't have what it takes to dig in for the last evolution.

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    Default Re: Thanks

    Originally posted by BruenRescue2003
    Thanks for all the suggestions and tips, but I still can't get over a feeling of whimping out the couple of times this has happened to me. Especially the second time it happened where I just quit in the middle of an evolution while the fellow firefighters in my group, who I consider to be in alot worse shape then I'm in, could carry on. At least the first time I was told to sit out. I feel like a sub-par firefighter in that kind of situation; that I didn't have what it takes to dig in for the last evolution.
    I have the same problems too sometimes. I'm a bit thin at 6'2" 185ish on a good day. I've had a few fires where I've felt beat after 15-20 minutes inside the heat, and I remember an extrication drill my company did last year in the hot sun in which I got hot and fatigued rather quickly. When I'm responding to a fire away from the station I try and grab a Gatorade or something and drink that on the way there, especially if I get woken up from sleep without eating.

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    Default Re: Thanks

    Originally posted by BruenRescue2003
    I feel like a sub-par firefighter in that kind of situation; that I didn't have what it takes to dig in for the last evolution.

    But you would have felt like a real ***** if they had to carry you off in the back of an ambulance!

    Don't sweat it. (sorry, baaaad pun)

    Work on your fitness levels, get acclimated, pace yourself, and try again another time. Sometimes you just have an off day, too.

    Extra points for going home at the end of the day; none for dying.
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    I sweat like crazy. I don't even have to be doing anything strenuous. If I'm just outside on a pretty hot day, I can pretty much guarantee I will be sweating, but it's mostly on my head........

    As for the chairs, I've seen them too. You could probably go somewhere and buy a cheap chair, then just cut off the canvas arms and rig it with a bag........
    Last edited by firenresq77; 08-19-2004 at 05:33 PM.

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    We're so fortunate in our area in that we have the Racine County Fire Belles who respond to most of our larger incidents. They're equipped with the same set up as the Providence Units previously shown and they are a true lifesaver. Misting fans and plenty of liquids. I couldn't see working in extreme weather conditions without them.

    I noticed one previous person mentioned ROOM TEMPERATURE water and Gatorade. Good answer. I know when we're dying out there it's something cold that we want. Probably not a good idea if your body is in the initial stages of heat exhaustion. I've always been told that room temperature liquids will have a much quicker rate of absorbtion than colder drinks.

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