How Firefighters Keep Themselves Safe During the Dog Days of Summer

How Firefighters Keep Themselves Safe During the Dog Days of Summer

Monday, 05 June 2023 15:03

Firefighting is a dangerous business that only a few people out of the total population engage in. Firefighters attack a natural element that people fear. Fire should be respected, but not necessarily feared. Fires can be controlled. They can finally be contained, even if it is only the weather that contains them. 

Firefighters respond to all types of emergencies during their everyday work. One moment a firefighter is sitting in the shade, enjoying a sunset over the Wind River Range of Wyoming, and the next moment, the firefighter is struggling up a steep grade, the torch in hand, attempting to set a backfire or rolling out a hose lay to protect a home from being totally destroyed.

The professionals at StreetWise work with fire crews all across the country with emergency training, logistical support, and computer software and understand the inherent danger firefighters have to work through.

Firefighters work in all types of unsafe conditions and weather. They are well-trained and have complex procedures to minimize the risk of doing their jobs, whether it is establishing elements of LCES (Lookout, Communication, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones) on a large wildland fire, or developing a safe route for a water shuttle on a remote structure fire. 

However, even a well-trained veteran can quickly be overcome by weather conditions, especially in the heat of the summer. Firefighters must maintain their situational awareness about their own bodies during the long hours and stressful work conditions and be proactive in ensuring that they keep themselves safe, especially during the dog days of summer.

Physical Toll the Summer Heat Places on Firefighters 

The dog days of summer include the hottest part of the summer, usually during July and August, which coincide with the worst part of the wildland fire season when thousands of firefighters are working and traveling across the country fighting forest fires.

Typically, firefighters will work straight through fourteen days on an assignment before taking a couple of days off. According to a standard policy, a wildland firefighter cannot exceed a two-to-one hourly work/rest ratio with a maximum workday of sixteen hours each day. 

Working over long periods of time in this manner will degrade physical health, even for the most athletic and healthy firefighter; therefore, it is very important for the firefighter to monitor his or her health each day, especially during the summer months.

Three Major Health Issues a Firefighter Must be Aware of During the Dog Days of Summer

The summer months bring the dangers of heat-related disorders that present serious issues for firefighters operating at fires and emergencies. Every firefighter should take some time and review the EMS protocols concerning heat-related disorders and be mindful of how to recognize the symptoms in themselves as well as their fellow firefighters.

There are three major heat-related health issues that can threaten even the most experienced and fit firefighters:

1. Heat Cramps 

Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms that occur when the body loses electrolytes during profuse sweating or when inadequate electrolytes are taken into the body. They usually begin in the arms, legs, or abdomen and often precede heat exhaustion. Treatment for heat cramps is to rest in the shade, get near a fan, spray a victim with water, and massage the cramp.

2. Heat Exhaustion 

Heat exhaustion is a medical emergency. When a person is suffering from heat exhaustion, they will perspire profusely and most likely will be pale. It is best treated by taking the patient to a cool place, applying cool compresses, elevating the feet, and giving the patient fluids.

3. Heat Stroke 

Heat stroke is the worst heat-related injury. In such instances, the brain has lost its ability to regulate body temperature. The patient will be hot, reddish, and warm to the touch. Their temperature will be markedly high, and there will be no perspiration. This is a true medical emergency. The emergency care for heat stroke is to cool the body as quickly as possible.  

Important Steps Firefighters Take to Prevent Heat-Related Disorders

Some important ways for firefighters to prevent heat-related disorders are as follows: 

  • Drink water or sports drinks before you become thirsty, and drink often.
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Wear a hat or cap, keep the neck covered, and wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • If you are able, plan drills and outside training in the cool hours of the day or evening.
  • Observe proper work/rest cycles and ensure rehab is instituted early at all fires and emergencies.
  • Hydrate before, during, and after each shift (minimize coffee, tea, and cola products).
  • Inform your officer immediately of any ill effects to heat.
  • Every firefighter operating in emergencies must use the rehab sector at all firefighting and emergency activities; company officers and chief officers must ensure compliance.
  • Remove all personal protective equipment during breaks away from the fire.
  • Request additional companies to allow for crew rotation.
  • Set up a misting spray at staging areas.
  • Use smoke ejectors to create a breeze.
  • Employ the first company-in/first-company-out routine.

The Single Most Important Thing a Firefighter Can Do

Proper hydration is the single most important thing a firefighter can do to protect themselves from the dangers of working in the heat of summer.

When a firefighter is in the middle of an intense firefighting activity, it is very easy to forget that your body is expending calories and water at an accelerating rate, and you can become dehydrated very quickly, especially when the heat index is extreme.

The National Weather Service produces a Heat Index Chart, which illustrates the effects of heat on the human body. The heat index is the temperature that the body feels when heat and humidity are combined. The chart shows the heat index that corresponds to the actual air temperature and relative humidity. And when the heat index is high, the rate of dehydration is accelerated in the body.

Firefighters must start the day fully hydrated and continue to drink liquids throughout the operational period. Salt tablets or table salt are not recommended to replace body electrolytes. 

There are many electrolyte replacement drinks available on the market today. Electrolytes are crucial for the proper functioning of the body and include calcium, sodium, and potassium. However, the best way is to drink more water throughout the day with supplemental electrolyte replacement drinks.

When firefighters report for duty, they should always be thinking of the weather conditions that they will be subjected to for that shift and prepare accordingly. In the summer, this may mean slowing down and keeping hydrated. Fire overhead personnel must never forget their responsibility to the firefighters under their command and remain vigilant for their well-being at all times.

Additionally, it is the duty of every fire department to prepare their firefighters for extreme weather conditions through appropriate standard operational procedures.  The weather will always be a factor when making decisions at fires or emergencies, whether tactically or operationally, and most importantly, for the well-being of our firefighters, especially in the extreme heat of summer.

StreetWise Can Help

StreetWise is a public safety information services company located in Mooresville, North Carolina that works directly with firefighters across the nation. President Philip Kouwe has been active in the fire and emergency services field for 35+ years. StreetWise is an elite group of progressive, like-minded investors, managers, technical developers, and advisors that form the parent company, Hangar 14 Solutions, LLC.

It is our close and ongoing career experience with public safety that led to the development of this project concept. Hangar 14 Solutions has identified first-hand the gap in getting critical response information into the hands of emergency personnel.

Hangar 14 Solutions is developing software applications for public safety that will focus on the burgeoning tablet computer hardware platform. As a company, Hangar 14 Solutions believes that mobile computing technology, particularly inexpensive tablet computers and cellular broadband, have opened up new possibilities for providing emergency incident information and stored pre-incident response data to emergency responders in the field.

If you would like more information on the services offered by StreetWise, check out our website at