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How to Protect Yourself from Heat-Related Injuries

It’s July and many parts of the country are facing the warmest temperatures of the summer.

Working in the heat is especially challenging for fire fighters this time of year because their gear prevents them from cooling down. A fire fighters core body heat can rise above 106 degrees.

Heat stress and heat stroke can kill and cause debilitating injuries, as well as reduce a fire fighter’s physiological performance.  Heat can also diminish a fire fighter’s ability to make critical decisions.  Thousands of fire fighters are injured each year from heat stress and heat stroke.  Even the fittest of fire fighters can succumb to a heat-related illness if they haven’t taken steps to prevent injury.

The IAFF, through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), has developed a rehab specific web site that includes our Emergency Incident Rehabilitation manual, as well as a training curriculum, SOPs and many additional resources and case studies. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration have made a safety tool available that calculates the heat index for work sites.

Fire fighters can be ready to safely deal with the hot temperatures if they gradually acclimatize their bodies to the heat. Acclimatization is a process and fire fighters should never make the mistake of testing how much their bodies can take during extreme temperatures.

Every fire department must establish high temperature benchmarks for initiating rehab operations and address training limitations during extreme heat.  However, as we have addressed in our rehab program, proper and monitored training in the heat can assist in acclimating fire fighters.

Of course, hydration plays an important role in combating heat-related illness as well. It’s recommended that fire fighters consume at least two quarts of water while performing strenuous activity.

Make your health and safety a priority. Fire fighters can’t control the temperatures, but can better prepare themselves for the summer heat through aggressive fitness, hydration and rehabilitation programs.

Remember these tips and stay safe this summer!

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