EMS personnel cannot avoid exposure to the heat and humidity of Hampton Roads’ summers. Nor do we have much choice in the uniforms we wear. However, there are things you can do to reduce the effect of heat stress on your body and work performance.
Before Your Shift:
• Stay physically fit through a good diet and routine exercise. Maintain a healthy weight.
• Review your medications. Some medications can make it harder for the body to respond to heat stress and make you more susceptible to getting a sunburn. Talk with your physician or pharmacist if you have questions about your medications.
• Avoid drinking alcoholic and caffeinated beverages with large amounts of caffeine or sugar within eight hours of your shift. Energy drinks should be avoided.
• Get the sleep you need. You should get 7-8 hours of sleep before your shift.
• Drink enough water to be thoroughly hydrated before reporting for duty.
• Eat a meal before reporting for duty. If reporting for duty on a night shift, try eating a lighter meal.
During Your Shift:
• Drink water frequently. Drink enough water that you never become thirsty. Keep water with you on the truck if possible. Drink water every 15-20 minutes. Avoid energy drinks and other caffeinated and sugary beverages. Caffeine causes increased urination, which could lead to dehydration.
• Take breaks whenever possible. Get into the shade or a cool area, or vehicle.
• Eat regularly. Avoid heavy meals.
• Monitor the local heat stress index. Most weather apps and websites will post the dry bulb temperature for a location based on GPS. They also post a “feels like” temperature reading. This reading, as a minimum, takes into consideration the ambient air temperature, humidity and wind.
• Be aware that protective clothing (turnout gear) or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress. Monitor your physical condition and that of your partner and other coworkers.
• Don’t “gut it out”. If you are not feeling well report your health status to your supervisor.
• Follow the rehabilitation procedures set forth for your agency.
Here are some additional heat stress resources:
OSHA Heat Stress App (for both Android & iPhone): https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html
Heat Stress Hydration Poster: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/UserFiles/works/pdfs/2017-126.pdf
Summary of Heat-related Illnesses and First Aid: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/heat_illnesses.html
Contact author Judy Shuck, Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Coordinator