NEWBERRY — High summer temperatures pose a threat not only to the general public but to safety personnel as well.
Over at the city of Newberry’s fire department Chief Keith Minick is taking special precautions to ensure the physical well-being of his team of firefighters.
“July has been a brutal time for us and thank God we didn’t have a lot of calls,” he said.
Minick recalled a June fire that occurred at West Fraser saw mill.
“It was a hot Sunday afternoon where we had to rotate people out, put them in the shade, give them some wet cloths to cool off with,” he said.
The main concern on days like that is preventing dehydration. When temperatures are up near 100 degrees and firefighters are working a burning building or an auto collision on hot asphalt, they’re going to be sweating more than usual.
Combine those conditions with an additional 50 to 100 pounds of bunker gear and equipment a firefighter lugs around and the threat of overexertion becomes very real.
Consequently when the heat is up firefighters working a scene necessarily rotate out more frequently.
“Manpower wise it really puts a toll on us because of the limited staff and the volunteer needs that we have today,” Minick said. “When you’re already shorthanded and you have 90-plus degree weather and you have your people take more breaks, now you need more people to fill those gaps to keep that job going.”
One thing the department has done to further bolster firefighter safety is completely revamp their rehab policy with assistance from Newberry EMS.
“We put our people in gear, we go out and do some strenuous work and then we check their pulse, check their blood pressure and make sure they’re back down to a normal rate before we let them go back to work,” Minick said.
To this end, the department employs a rehab trailer that is hauled out to big scenes and contains a variety of items to promote the well-being of firefighters — a propane heater in the winter, tents to provide shade in the summer, Gatorade, etc.
EMS and rescue squad personnel are on hand to monitor vitals at the rehab trailer which is intentionally set up away from the scene.
“We don’t want (firefighters) watching it and their adrenaline is pumping and they’re wanting to get back to work,” Minick said.
Instead, the rehab center is designed for firefighters to chill out, re-hydrate and get their heart rate down.
“Knock on wood, I haven’t dealt with anybody that succumbed to injury from high heat but we have had some that had to have IVs at the hospital to get fluids back in them that pushed the limit — just got overexerted,” Minick said.
Luckily with frequent showers as of late, they’re finally getting “a bit of a break” from excessively hot temperatures, Minick said.
However, he acknowledged with much of August still remaining they’re not quite out of the woods.
Reach Carson Lambert at 803-276-0625, ext. 1868, or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.