Some douse their heads with water. Others gulp sports drinks while relaxing in the shade of a nearby tree. About a dozen cool off in an air-conditioned red bus – new to the fire fleet.
It’s been a typical scene already this summer at several recent local fires, according Wichita Fire Department officials, as Wichita firefighters work to beat the heat while battling area blazes.
For Capt. Brent Holman, fending off the swelter starts before he clocks in.
“It kind of starts early – I mean right when you wake up in the morning – with a big glass of water,” he said. “We start early and often.”
During the summer, the Wichita Fire Department takes additional steps to keep its crews working at peak performance and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses as temperatures rise. Officials rotate crews more quickly, call additional units to respond, and offer wet towels to workers. There’s also a mandatory resting period for the first crews on scene, Fire Chief Ronald Blackwell said.
Plenty of bottled water and sports drinks are also provided to keep dehydration at bay.
“The bad thing is on days like this you don’t have to work very hard at all with all the gear on to really lose a lot of fluid,” said Holman, who wears about 60 pounds of gear to protect him from the heat of a fire.
“It keeps the fire heat out, but unfortunately it traps in” body heat, he said.
“Heatstroke can be a real problem on days like this,” Wichita fire Capt. Scott Ledy said after checking the health of firefighters responding to a fire Friday on West Douglas. Ledy said he hasn’t seen any major heat-related illnesses among firefighters so far this year, but with more triple-digit days expected, the threat of heat exhaustion and cardiac arrest remains high.
“We want to make sure we keep fluids in them and keep them cool,” he said.
For the first time, firefighters can also cool off in the department’s new, air-conditioned rehabilitation bus, where Ledy and others closely monitor firefighters’ vital signs after they come out of the fire. The bus was added to the fleet this spring to give firefighters another option to beat the heat.
Ledy said the bus isn’t dispatched to every fire, but it’s been well-received by firefighters.
“They monitor us really close,” he said. “The bus is good. We like it.”
However firefighters choose to cool down while battling blazes this summer, one thing’s for sure, Ledy said: Prevention is key.
“It’s real important to keep hydrated, and drink fluids all day to prepare,” he said.