Beating the Heat While Fighting Fire

By: Philip Stewart
By: Philip Stewart

June 22, 2006

As temperatures soar into the 90s, firefighters still have to suit up and respond to calls. It's a hot job, but they say it's all in a day's work.

Firefighters' coats and pants weight 30 pounds. The boots weight a couple more pounds. Strap on oxygen tanks, and a typical firefighter wears as much as 100 pounds of gear when they're on the job.

Then factor in one more thing: try doing it on a day when the temperatures are in the mid 90's.

"Your boots are insulated, your gloves are insulated, the suit's insulated. You've got a helmet on, which isn't letting any kind of heat evaporate out of your scalp. So it's definitely cooking you," said Captain Mike Rogers, of the Charlottesville Fire Department.

Captain Rogers was out on about eight calls Thursday in that gear, but he said it was all in a day's work. To be ready for a day of some very hot work in the sun, firefighters prepare their bodies ahead of time.

"We have to over-hydrate almost... to be on an even keel throughout the day," explained Rogers. "Each time we go out on a call, no matter if we do work or not, we put the gear on [and] we begin to sweat."

One tool they use to cool down is a cooling chair. The arm rests are filled with ice water. When firefighters put their arms in, that cold water cools the blood as it circulates back to the body. It's a much better approach than an older system, in which firefighters were simply misted with cool water.

"So it's actually doing cooling the body as opposed to just a feeling of being cool," said Rogers.

Just like the firefighters learn how to deal with a blaze, they also learn how to take care of themselves in the heat.

"We try to do continuing education of taking care of yourself, and making sure that you're hydrating the day prior to coming to work, and not just trying to hydrate while you're at work," said Rogers.

Firefighters also try to avoid things that dehydrate the body like alcohol, soda, and nicotine.

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