Metro-East News

Heat advisories mean added danger for firefighters

East St. Louis firefighters battle a blaze at Classic Tires in East St. Louis on July 5, 2017.
East St. Louis firefighters battle a blaze at Classic Tires in East St. Louis on July 5, 2017. kberg@bnd.com

For first responders, especially firemen, the heat can be dangerous.

Preparing for a shift when temperatures are expected to be above 100 is almost like treating yourself like a professional athlete, said East St. Louis Fire Chief Jason Blackmon. Firefighters have to keep hydrated, get proper rest and eat the right foods before their shift.

Luckily, East St. Louis fire hasn’t had any heat-related injuries so far this summer. They make sure to keep plenty of water on the truck, and for some structure fires where it may be particularly brutal, EMS comes to the scene, Blackmon said.

“The captains on scene are pretty smart about taking men in and out,” Blackmon said. “They’ll take off their gear so they don’t overheat, when necessary ... They get out of the gear as soon as they can.”

This week, temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees Wednesday through Saturday, with high humidity making the heat feel even worse. Heat indexes are expected to reach 102 on Thursday, and 106 on Friday and Saturday.

Because firefighting gear doesn’t change with the weather, the heavy jacket and pants can be like wearing a snowsuit in extreme temperatures, said Belleville Fire Chief Tom Pour. It’s easy to layer up the thermal socks or undershirts when temperatures are below freezing, but crews can’t strip off their gear when they get hot.

Belleville Fire Department will send out a second alarm to bring more crews to a structure fire when it’s really hot, or call out for mutual aid and bring other departments in. This way, they can rotate crews in and out, making sure no one gets overheated or injured, Pour said.

“They work shorter cycles and take longer rest periods between cycles,” Pour said. “It’s critical to monitor the vital signs of crews as they come out and make sure they’re doing OK.”

So far on hot days this summer, the department has done training in the morning, to beat the high temperature periods, Pour said. But the only real preparation firefighters can do to stay safe in the heat is to keep hydrated and stay in shape, he said.

In general, Pour recommends everyone stay hydrated and out of the heat during excessive heat advisories. If someone passes out because they’re running when it’s too hot out, it’ll bring firefighters and other first responders out into the heat as well to rescue them.

“Know your own limits and keep yourself hydrated,” Pour said. “And stay out of the heat.”

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