Solon firefighters were taking extra precautions during this summer’s heat waves where temperatures soared into the high 90s, Chief William J. Shaw said last week.
Thankfully, crews did not respond to actual fires over the July 20-21 weekend, but that didn’t mean they didn’t don turn-out gear, weighing in at 45 pounds, he said. That gear is worn to respond to calls such as fire alarms and car accidents.
“With 45 extra pounds in equipment, you can imagine what that does to the firefighters and some of the challenges that they face,” he said.
On occasion, firefighters are out working in this gear that wraps them as if in a protective cocoon, Chief Shaw continued. “It keeps the body heat in which is not a good situation when you want to get the heat out,” he said.
Precautions include having more people on hand in a fire situation and utilizing mutual aid.
“Firemen can’t work as long as they normally would under cooler conditions,” he said.
Hydration is also important, Chief Shaw continued, as well as medical monitoring on breaks, including taking high blood pressure readings and vital signs.
“They have found a link between high internal temperatures the firefighters build up and heart attack and stroke,” Chief Shaw said. “That is why they feel it is prevalent in fire service.”
It is important to rotate crews out to give them opportunity to cool down, he added.
Firefighters also work on conditioning throughout the year to ensure they are as physically fit as possible when fighting fires in high heat situations. The majority of them work out at some point during their shift, and the department is equipped with standard bar bells, nautilus weight machines and ellipticals and treadmills.
Chief Shaw also said it is important to get the word out to the general public when weather conditions are dangerous, such as those with high heat.
There were no significant calls during the heat wave but firefighters are always prepared, he noted.
“We go back to the tried and true method that we need more people (in high heat situations),” he added.
Chief Shaw said that in addition to fires, any calls to the outdoors, such as in the Cleveland Metroparks, are challenging when it is hot and humid. “You wouldn’t do yard work in this heat, so it is the same scenario and same set of circumstances,” with firefighters still in heavy gear performing such tasks as water rescue.
Medical calls are not as challenging in high heat conditions, Chief Shaw added, as typically firefighters are entering an air conditioned environment.