High Heat is an Issue for First Responders

Published 07/02 2014 06:33PM

Updated 07/02 2014 07:42PM

CAMBRIDGE, Vt. - Wednesday morning, fire crews showed up at Smuggler's Notch Resort for an electrical fire.

They were able to contain it quickly, and no one was hurt--but the real danger wasn't necessarily the fire, it was the weather.

"We're really worried about the firefighters staying hydrated, and cooling off to work," said Scott Brinkman, the Chief of EMS for the Town of Stowe.

With temperatures in the 80s, and oppressive humidity, Brinkman says crews are in danger of heat exposure, dehydration and exhaustion while responding to emergencies.

"We keep 2 to 3 cases of bottled water on a truck," Brinkman said. "We try to make sure they're drinking a bottle every 20 minutes or so."

The gear the firefighters wear weighs about 50-60 pounds, including the air tank on their backs. That makes the situation even hotter.

"There's a fleece liner to the helmet," Brinkman said. "So that's wrapping them completely to protect the back of their neck from flame and exposure. But it's incredibly hot."

Brent Garrow is the Disaster Program Manager for the Vermont & New Hampshire Upper Valley Region chapter of the American Red Cross.

This local chapter responded to 10 emergencies in 19 days last month. Garrow says while winter brings more calls, the weather in summer can be worse.

"There is no cooling down," he said. The Red Cross brings extra water and Gatorade to calls to try and prevent dehydration.

"You're just working under adverse conditions. And it drains everyone," Garrow said.

From the Red Cross to many fire departments, a lot of the people responding to emergencies are volunteers. That means they could be working another job, or working out at the gym when they get a call, unable to prepare or hydrate.

"They come in and they jump in their gear and they get in a truck and go fight fires. They need a lot of support," Brinkman said.

While regular breaks and drinking lots of water usually helps, sometimes the heat wins out.

"Very often, you can expend all you got and not recover quickly," Brinkman said. "You're going to lose your strength, and your ability to react quickly."

If you want to donate to the American Red Cross to help buy water and supplies, click here for the Vermont & New Hampshire Upper Valley chapter. You can also stop by at 29 Mansfield Ave in Burlington.

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