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9 extreme heat safety tips for public safety personnel

As you ready yourself and your community for a heatwave, keep these tips in mind

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Public safety personnel will continue to feel the impact of more frequent and more severe weather events on the calls they respond to, the equipment they need to replace or purchase, and the costs and complexity of building severe-weather hardened stations and communication centers.

Las Vegas Fire & Rescue/Facebook

Record-setting heat is scorching the American West and putting tens of millions of people, as well as the public safety professionals who care for them, at risk of heat emergencies.

The forecasted weekend high temperatures – 114 degrees F in Las Vegas, 100 degrees in Salt Lake City, and 117 degrees in Phoenix – are incomprehensible to me. Those temperatures are dangerous for anyone working outdoors or living in a residence without air conditioning. [Complete the form on this page to download an infographic for extreme heat safety]

As you respond in the hot and parched West or prepare for a heatwave in your community, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Personal safety in high-heat conditions

  • Physical training. Schedule outdoor PT early in the morning or late in the afternoon. If you can’t beat the heat outdoors, workout indoors or take a couple of days off for more sleep – you probably need it.
  • Hydration. Thirst is the best indicator to take a drink of water. Take a drink when you are thirsty. Pale or clear urine is another useful indicator of adequate hydration. If you are anticipating high-exertion, outdoor activity, pre-hydration may be useful, but not to the point of feeling full or bloated. Bring extra water in your vehicle in case you are unable to get back to the station.
  • Electrolyte replacement. Sports drinks are useful for replacing electrolytes during and after long durations of aerobic exercise, but they often contain empty sugar calories you may not need. Quench your thirst with water and replace electrolytes with a well-balanced diet before turning to sports or energy drinks.
  • Manage the scene. As conditions allow, move patients, suspects or bystanders you are interacting with into the shade, or air-conditioned vehicles or buildings. For EMS providers, move patients off the street or out of their hot home and into the air-conditioned ambulance sooner than you might otherwise.
  • PPE removal and rehab. When safe to do so, remove PPE layers, such as masks, helmets or hats, turnout gear and body armor, to improve heat loss through radiation, conduction, evaporation and convection. When the ambient air temperature is in the high 90s or 100s, passive heat loss is ineffective, so enhance cooling with misting fans, ice packs, cooling towels or immersion.
  • Watch your partner. Your human or K9 partner is also at risk when the temperatures climb. Early signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke include lethargy, confusion and other personality changes. If your partner seems “off,” take a water break out of the sun and humidity, and consider further assessment of their pulse rate, respiratory rate, mental status and recent water consumption.

Heat safety for your community

  • Check on vulnerable populations. The elderly and people experiencing homelessness are at increased risk during high-heat and -humidity conditions. Some medications, as well as the aging process, compromise an older person’s ability to thermoregulate. The St. Charles County Ambulance District used a Costco grant to give seniors cold water and heat safety tips.
  • Provide community education. Use department social channels, media outreach and face-to-face visits to discuss heat emergency signs and symptoms, prevention and emergency care. Consider partnering with your public health department to deliver formal or informal education programs to outdoor employers, such as construction and landscaping businesses, and youth sports camps.
  • Open cooling centers. A cooling center is a community building, school or business that opens its doors and shares its air conditioning during extreme heat events to people who lack air conditioning in their home. An ambulance crew may be formally assigned to the cooling center, but it is also an opportunity for informal visits from community police officers or for firefighters to conduct community risk reduction programs. Relationship building and education are always valuable.

Worsening impact of climate change on public safety

Public safety personnel will continue to feel the impact of more frequent and more severe weather events on the calls they respond to, the equipment they need to replace or purchase, and the costs and complexity of building severe-weather hardened stations and communication centers. Get off the sidelines and participate in initiatives to reduce the increasingly worrisome impacts of climate change.

Learn more about heat emergency safety

Learn more about heat emergencies and climate change’s impact on public safety with these resources.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on PoliceOne, FireRescue1, Corrections1, EMS1 and Gov1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on Twitter or LinkedIn and submit an article idea or ask questions by emailing him at