Firefighters Battle More Than Flames In Extreme Heat

Wednesday, June 27th 2012, 6:37 pm
By: News On 6

There's nowhere to get cool when you're fighting a fire, especially in triple-digit heat.

That's what Tulsa firefighters faced Tuesday.

Late in the afternoon, a south Tulsa home went up in flames. Firefighters responded in force, battling the raging fire and the soaring temperatures that reached as high as 105 degrees.

"If you can imagine being out in 105-degree temperature in a suit that's going to keep your body temperature at a 100 degrees—it's definitely going to be hot," said Michael Baker, the Tulsa Fire Department Director of Emergency Services.

It's Baker's job to make sure the firefighters lives are safe while they're working hard to put out the fire.

"Well, the number one thing is hydrate, hydrate, and drink more water—and hydrate and hydrate," said Baker.

Baker said there are a number of ways they protect the firefighters. First, they make sure they're well hydrated. Even off duty, they're told to drink plenty of water.

Once at the scene, they limit how much work the firefighters do at one time: shorter work periods and more frequent breaks.

But one of the more unique ways the firefighters cool down, and something Baker says you can do as well, is called "forearm immersion."

The firefighters dunk their forearms in buckets of cool - but not cold - water.

"We get all of those capillaries on the surface of the skin exposed to that cooler environment in that water," Baker said. "The surface of the skin radiates that heat out into that cool water, and it begins to pull the heat off the body. It's more of a cool-down without a rapid cool-down. We allow them to recover a little bit."

Baker said firefighter safety is a challenge in the extreme heat, but something the department takes very seriously.

"They all carry water on their apparatus," Baker said. "We make sure they hydrate and get that fluid into their body and stay hydrated, and prevent any illness and keep them on the job. That's what we want to do to keep them safe."

The owners of the house that caught fire Tuesday said what the firefighters did for them was, "incredible," and "awesome." They ask anyone wishing to help the family to instead go to your local fire department and make a donation there.

The cause of that fire is still under investigation.