How firefighters stay safe in the summer heat

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Hot… humid… sweltering. These are all words that describe summer in New Orleans. But even though it feels like a scorcher, New Orleans firefighters are dealing with dangerous heat, and we’re not talking about the flames.

Chief Terry Hardy, Chief of Safety for the New Orleans Fire Department tells us that for firefighters, the heat index outside is nothing compared to what they feel inside their gear. Once they are fully dressed, the heat index increases 10-20 degrees, meaning inside the gear it can feel like 120-130 degrees.

Firefighters in full gear

Firefighters in full gear

Meteorologist Jason Disharoon wanted to see for himself just how hot the suit gets. To start off, he took his initial temperature in the shade and it turned out to be 98.1 degrees, about average for him and that lets him know that so far, he's having a healthy day. Now it was time to suit up.

There are three layers inside the gear, and once he's gotten it all on: the pants, jacket, hood, helmet and oxygen tanks, he has added an extra 50 pounds to his body. That’s 50 extra pounds of work that his body is doing with every step.

After just 5 minutes, we decided to check if his body temperature changed. A change of even one full degree is significant in such a short amount of time.

And the result? In just five minutes, his core temperature jumped up a degree and a half to 99.6. Keep in mind, all Jason did was walk around in the gear. Firefighters are doing much, much more as they go about their duties. That’s why heat safety is paramount for them.

Jason's temperature afterwards

Part of that safety is rehab tents that are set up where firefighters can come and sit down to rest, in front of fans and misters, soaking their arms in ice cold water. Since most heat is transferred to and from the body through the head, arms and feet, soaking the arms is one of the quickest ways to bring down the body’s core temperature. It’s mandatory for firefighters to spend at least 10 minutes here before even trying to return to the field for another rotation.

Rehab Tents

Rehab Tents

It’s not just on the field treatment that gets priority. Chief Hardy tells us prevention is key. Every morning they advise each member to drink plenty of fluids so they can hydrate themselves throughout the day and to be aware of the things that the heat is going to cause -- from heat strokes to heat cramps.

So as soon as their day begins, firefighters are already taking the necessary precautions to keep themselves cool and hydrated, so that when they experience those temperatures of 130 degrees, they’re more than ready to take the heat.


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