Firefighters battling both fire and summer heat as temps go up

Published On: Jul 07 2014 11:42:13 AM CDT

As temperatures across Kansas continue to climb, firefighters in Sedgwick County are no longer just fighting fires during the day - they're also fighting the sun.

Both Sedgwick County and Wichita fire crews were called out to a house fire around 7:00 Monday morning and even though they weren't fighting the flames during the peak heating hours of the day, the hazards of high heat were already on their minds.

"We do have a couple extra crews on scene because of the heat we're experiencing this morning and the stress on the firefighters later today," said Division Chief Carl Cox with the Sedgwick County Fire Department.

It's the same heat and humidity we all feel, but it often weighs heavier on our first responders.

"In bunker gear that's an extra problem because you can't really sweat and let it evaporate and that's our body's primary means of cooling itself," said Segwick County Fire's Medical Officer Don Paget.

That's why Paget also responds to fire calls and sets up a "rehab" location on scene. There, firefighters can take breaks and cool off.

"We'll take them out and rest them every ten to 20 minutes, make sure they get fluids, give them some snacks if they need it," added Paget. "If it's really hot and they've been working a while, we'll take their vital signs. They have to meet certain criteria to go back to work."

If they don't meet their vital sign criteria, that firefighter is not allowed to continue fighting and will be monitored on scene. If their condition does not improve, Paget will require that first responder to go the hospital to be checked and treated. He said that doesn't happen very often, he's only required three firefighters to be checked at the hospital in the past three years.

As firefighters take those mandatory breaks, it's also important to have extra personnel on scene to rotate in when needed. Sometimes, Paget said, that can be a problem.

"That's kind of a catch-22 because if you bring too many personnel to the scene, you leave too many stations empty and then if there's another event, we won't have anybody close to respond."

It's a bit of a balancing act but it's one Paget says they're used to dealing with during the summer, all to make sure their crews can keep fighting the fires without jeopardizing their own health.

"We try to balance the needs, but we obviously don't want to exhaust our fellows or cause them problems," said Paget.