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Mass. firefighters help citizens fight summer heat wave

Firefighters, public health officials and Salvation Army unite to combat heat illnesses


By Jill Harmacinski
The Eagle Tribune

ANDOVER, Mass. — As temperatures soared into the 90s again Wednesday, locals stuck by fans and air conditioning and dipped in pools and ponds trying to ride out the latest wave of sweltering heat.

Some professions are shown no mercy, however.

Late Wednesday morning as the mercury just touched 90 degrees, a fire on a South Lawrence porch was reported when residents smelled smoke and dialed 911.

Crews raced to 90-92 Jamaica St., where the single-alarm blaze in a two-story, two-family house was quickly knocked down. Fire investigators quickly determined the fire was caused by careless disposal of cigarettes. While there were no injuries, porches on the first and second floors were scorched.

"This is what we call a good stop," said Fire Chief Brian Moriarty. "These guys don't goof off. They come to work to fight fires."

They also wear 75 pounds of protective gear, so numerous Lawrence General Hospital paramedics were on standby as the firefighters worked on Jamaica Street in the sun at the top of a hill.

North of Boston paramedic Bill Kinch explained it's imperative to monitor the vital signs and temperatures of rescuers who work day after day in such oppressive heat.

If a firefighter's temperature rises above 100 degrees, heart rate goes over 120, or blood pressure exceeds 140 over 90, Kinch said he or she is immediately pulled away from the fire.

"We will literally keep them out of the fire until their vital signs drop," said Kinch, a paramedic for the past 25 years.

While body heat escapes from the head quickly, a person also can rapidly cool down if a cold towel is draped over the head. Kinch regularly does this while rehabbing firefighters in hot weather.

The healing power of water
Bottled water is also an ally to rescuers, as well as regular folks just trying to go about their business on a hot and humid day, Kinch noted.

The thing is, he explained, by the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated.

Those who are most at risk of dehydration are the very young and very old because their bodies aren't good at regulating heat.

"As you get older, your body becomes much worse at regulating temperature and hydration," he said.

With a prediction of a high of 94 degrees Thursday, Kinch urged people to keep an eye on their families and neighbors to make sure everyone is staying cool and hydrated.

Helping others is something the Salvation Army in Haverhill is dedicated to.

Members drove around Wednesday in their personal cars handing out ice-cold bottled water.

"We go down by the river behind the thrift store on Merrimack Street, by the Post Office in Washington Square, the public library on Main Street and other areas where homeless congregate and where we might encounter senior citizens," said Salvation Army Capt. Mari Hardy.

"We probably average six to eight cases of water per day and Wednesday is the third day in a row we've been doing this," Hardy said.

The goal is to help people keep hydrated, particularly the homeless and elderly who might not feel they need to have a drink but may be at risk of heat exhaustion.

Christina Sierra, a working mother from Methuen, joked this week that she was going to serve her family popsicles for dinner.

On Wednesday, Sierra took the day off and brought her two children to a friend's pool to cool off. Again, her daily menu plan had an icy feel.

"There is truth to ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner," she said.

'People are heeding the warnings'
The temperatures have been consistently high in New Hampshire, too, but officials said they've been experiencing few heat-related problems.

"I'm going to curse myself by saying we haven't had anything recently," said Lt. Anthony Rossignol of the Derry Fire Department. "We did respond to (a brush fire) a few shifts ago that was in Candia. ... When I came on, the guys were kind of expecting to go back to it because of the potential hot spots. ... But we haven't really seen anything — knock on wood — elaborate here in town."

Derry residents have been taking to public spots like Gallien's Beach and the splash pad at the Don Ball Park to cool off.

"Definitely, we've seen an increase in attendance," said Eric Bodenrader, director of Derry Parks and Recreation, who attributed the above-average patronage to the heat.

"Fortunately, we have not had any issues. ... We're staffed at both locations with supervisors, concessions attendants and lifeguards, and they're trained to look out for situations where someone may be experiencing a medical (issue)."

Plaistow Fire Chief John McArdle said he's noticed many people outside to jog or bike have been doing so earlier in the morning or later in the evening.

"I think people are heeding the warnings that we're seeing in the media to be careful and not overexert themselves," McArdle said.

Battalion Chief Randall Young of the Salem Fire Department also described the town as being fortunate, given the weather.

"We've actually been lucky. Typically when we have this type of ... long, dry, hot weather, we usually do have a lot of issues, but we've been fortunate," he said. "We haven't had a lot of problems — nothing big and not a large quantity."

Young did say, however, that the department has been fielding more medical calls than usual due to the heat and people becoming dehydrated.

"We have had a small uptick in that," Young said.

Londonderry also has experienced just a few problems related to the heat, but Battalion Chief Kevin Zins said the department, like many in the area, is "trying to be proactive, keeping guys hydrated and cool and ready so they can perform a little better when they get out in the heat."

A cooling center and mosquitoes
Vincent Ouellette, director of human services for Haverhill, said the city has been offering residents an opportunity to keep cool at the Citizens Center.

"If we get calls we would remain open at night, but we have not received any calls," he said. "I've not heard of any issues with people not having a place to be cool. But we are open on an as-needed basis."

Visits to the Plug Pond recreation area in Haverhill are also up, with crowds reaching the 200 person capacity. Ouellette said people will go the pond for an hour or so and then leave so there is a constant turn over.

"We've also seen consistent crowds at the spray park at Swasey Field," he said.

Starting Thursday morning in Lawrence, cooling centers will open at the city's senior center at 155 Haverhill St. and at Oasis Senior Day Care, a private facility located at 120 Broadway.

The senior center will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and folks can cool day at Oasis from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., officials said.

In Methuen, the heat coincided with spraying overnight to drastically reduce the mosquito population.

The spraying was done using truck-mounted, ultra-low volume equipment that dispenses a very fine mist of pesticides, officials said.

North Andover officials also this week issued a voluntary water ban and a simultaneous drought watch.

The town's Board of Selectmen asked residents to conserve water, including doing lawn watering between 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. They asked residents only to water their lawns every third day and to limit outside water use for washing cars and paved surfaces.

The main Lawrence Public Library got so hot that it was closed at 3:45 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes earlier than the regular 5 p.m.

The temperature was 89 degrees on the second floor and 92 degrees on the third, said Acting Director Kemal Bozkurt, who conferred with library trustees on the decision.

The excessive heat was a danger to patrons and staff, he said. The union contract provides for the closing of the library if the temperature rises above 86 degrees.

Copyright 2016 The Eagle-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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