With summer here in full swing and hot temperatures likely to come with it in the months ahead, emergency response organizations are reminding residents how to handle extreme heat.
The Cascades branch of the American Red Cross put out a press release late last month detailing an array of dos and don'ts for unusually hot temperatures, including to check forecasts regularly, wear light, loose clothing and eat smaller portions more frequently throughout the day, among others.
Yet, for JR Hartmann, a paramedic with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, the most common issue he sees after seven years working in Newberg is people simply forgetting to drink enough water, whether by not adjusting their routine or just getting lost in an outdoor project.
"I'm sure you've worked out in the yard… something frustrates you or something distracts you and now you're focused on a project or whatever and the day gets away from you," he said. "It's surprisingly easy to get dehydrated."
Hartmann explained that heat exhaustion, and subsequently heat stroke, can happen for a variety of reasons, but all are rooted in not drinking enough water for the body to sweat to compensate for higher temperatures.
In some cases, he explained that an elderly person – already with less fluids in their body – may just go about their usual routine of putting on their sweater and drinking the same amount they would have on a 60-degree day when its 100 degrees outside and 90 degrees inside.
He noted just sitting indoors on an extremely hot day without drinking enough water – among the most common heat-related calls – can lead to symptoms like nausea and confusion.
Another common type of heat-related call comes from working outside without heeding the heat, like a middle-aged father setting up for a barbecue, standing in front of a hot grill in the sun and eventually passing out for a second.
Even firefighters and EMTs start reminding each other to drink water first thing in the morning on hot days, noting that the best practice is start boosting water consumption the night before.
He specifically referenced the recent brush fire that broke out on Chehalem Mountain along Highway 219 late last month that required dozens of fire personnel on scene for 29 hours. He estimated he drank 20 bottles of water over the course of seven hours while he was on duty during that fire.
In explaining that, he noted the importance of urinating regularly, as falling below that is a strong indicator that a person is not drinking enough water.
Ahead of hot spells, the American Red Cross recommends keeping updated to weather forecasts and particularly the heat index – the temperature a body feels when factoring in humidity. In addition, residents should make sure they have needed supplies, know of places they can go with air conditioning and that such needs are met for their families, elderly neighbors and pets.
During extremely hot weather, residents should drink fluids even when not feeling thirsty and avoid caffeine and alcohol, eat smaller meals at more frequent intervals, make sure neighbors and loved ones are comfortable, postpone outdoor activities and generally slow down.
When going outside, residents should use the buddy system while working, take frequent breaks, wear loose, light-weight, light-colored clothing and never leave pets or animals in sealed cars.
The press release indicates an initial stage of heat-related illness is heat cramps in the abdomen and legs, and recommends that anyone experiencing such symptoms get to a cool place, get into a comfortable position and have an electrolyte-plentiful sports drink.
Next comes heat exhaustion, with symptoms including headaches, nausea, dizziness and weakness as well as cool, moist, pale or flushed skin.
Ways to treat this including moving a person to a cooler place, loosening clothing, applying damp towels to the skin, fanning the person and giving them small amounts of electrolyte-containing fluids every 15 minutes, being ready to call 9-1-1 if things worsen.
The next stage, heat stroke, is a potentially life threatening condition when the body starts to shut down, showing symptoms such as changes in consciousness, confusion, weak or rapid pulse. The American Red Cross recommends immediately calling 9-1-1 for this and immersing or dousing this person in cold water as much as possible.
Hartmann took a more conservative stance, recommending a call to 9-1-1 if a person is showing even just one of the major heat exhaustion symptoms: dizziness, fatigue, nausea, confusion or skin that feels unusually hot.
He said any one of those is sign that a person has crossed the "tipping point" where they can easily recover by just drinking more fluids and may now require a burst of fluid intravenously.
"Those are emergency situations because your body's telling you that 'hey I'm in a lot trouble here, I'm going to need some help," he said. "Your body is not able to compensate anymore. It's been giving you the warning signs for the last three hours, you just ignored them."
Beyond consuming more water, Hartmann advised residents should stay in the shade and in an air conditioned room if possible, avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day – generally 3 to 7 p.m. – and never leave children or animals in sealed cars.
He said jumping in a lake or a river can be great way to cool down, but that residents should do so responsibly, wearing a life jacket and avoiding alcohol.
More information from American Red Cross is available at www.redcrossblog.org/2017/06/hot-weather-safety-tips.html.