Norwood Park successful in battling heat wave
Norwood Park Firefighter/EMT Stephen Swank of Wadsworth dips his head under the water from the engine's tank outside the Norwood Park Fire Department as temperatures soared on Friday, July 6, 2012. During the hot summer months, firefighters can wear shorts. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
What do you do to beat the heat when temperatures are scorching?
Updated: August 13, 2012 7:04AM
NORWOOD PARK— With summer’s heat on full blast, the Norwood Park Fire Protection District reminds residents of the importance of keeping cool to avoid falling victim to a weather-related illness.
The heat wave that scorched the Midwest the past few weeks resulted in consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures in the area.
At the same time, calls to the fire department for emergency medical assistance increased 10 to 15 percent, according to Deputy Chief John Kovalcik.
“People cutting grass and doing what they normally do don’t realize what’s happening,” he said. “Small amounts of exercise can increase sweating and increase body heat.”
Fire paramedics might respond to an additional one or two minor medical emergencies when the weather is particularly hot, Kovalcik said, but their actual response and treatment techniques don’t change much.
“We send an ambulance and (fire) engine,” he said, “and our own guys are hydrating.”
Kovalcik said most people get sick in high temperatures from overexertion and not taking proper precautions.
By not drinking and retaining enough fluids while under the sun, a person quickly becomes dehydrated and may suffer heat exhaustion, in which the body’s sweat response stops working properly.
Common symptoms are dizziness, muscle cramps, a weak and rapid pulse, and nausea or vomiting.
If a person’s inner-body temperature isn’t immediately lowered, the condition can escalate into a heat stroke, a form of hyperthermia that is fatal without prompt and proper treatment.
Kovalcik said, luckily, the fire department this year has yet to encounter a devastating situation caused by the heat.
In most cases fire paramedics assist heat victims by cooling them off with wet towels and getting them to drink water. The goal is to hydrate and regulate body temperature.
People who cannot be treated sufficiently on scene are transported to a hospital, Kovalcik said.
Since fire department staff are always on alert, keeping first responders hydrated and healthy in periods of extreme weather is equally important to ensuring everyone’s safety.
A large cooler of water and Gatorade on the rig comes in handy when firefighters are on the go.
Last year the Norwood Park Fire Department gave employees permission to wear uniform shorts on duty as an alternative to the standard long pants.
“It helps them work better and linger in hot conditions,” said Kovalcik.
Safety gear, however “is a whole other story,” he said, as there is no way to ditch heavy helmets and jackets when situations require them.
Kovalcik offers residents the same advice he gives staff for beating heat: avoid sugar and caffeinated products, wear light-fitting clothes, and stay indoors as much as possible.
He also asks residents to check on elderly neighbors at least once a day and to remember not to leave pets, let alone children, in vehicles with closed windows.
People who don’t have access to an air-conditioned home can take refuge in public cooling centers during periods of extreme weather.
Norridge designated the Estelle Sieb Center, 7774 W. Irving Park Road, as its spot to cool down during business hours. When heat indexes approach or exceed 100 degrees, the center is open late.
The second floor of the Harwood Heights Police Station, 7300 W. Wilson Avenue, is accessible day and night and equipped with water, blankets and pillows.
“Comfort is as important as convenience,” said Harwood Heights Chief of Public Safety Mario Ricchio.