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4 tips for keeping firefighters cool

This time of year, there’s no escaping the heat; here are some tips to prevent heat-related illnesses in firefighters

Summertime is here. Temperatures seem to be hot already, and if it is hot as it was cold this past winter it will be a scorcher.

Firefighters don’t get a break from the heat. It is hot coming out of a fire, but when the ambient temperatures are in the high 90s or hotter with high humidity, it is hot. This is a good time to talk about cooling our folks and providing the necessary temperature needed on an incident scene.

Over the past years the number of products available for our rehab sector continues to expand. There are multiple devices on the market.

Before we get too involved, we need to delineate humid versus non-humid temperatures. There is a distinct difference of how we want to cool personnel.

Misting fans and body coolers
If you are in a humid environment, it is recommended that you stay away from misting fans. Using misters in this environment can increase the chances of burns. Conversely, if you are in a dry environment, using misting fans is recommended.

I frequently receive notifications of new products including cooling devices. There are cooling towels that can be issued to each person. The towel is immersed in water and then wringed out remaining cold but not soaking wet. The towel is designed to prevent any microbes from remaining behind and preventing any cross contamination.

You can find chairs with plastic inserts for personnel to soak their arms in a cold-water immersion. The bags can be changed out between use to prevent contamination.

The latest device is arm cooler harness that was developed by firefighters in Australia. The device can be strapped around neck and used virtually anywhere. It has removable inserts to change out between use.

Hydration and temperature change
Regardless of what device you use, keeping personnel cool during the heat of the summer is imperative. Heat emergencies can be life-threatening and needs to be taken seriously.

Hydration is a must for all personnel and not something to do only on the fire scene. Hydration should be done consistently and constantly throughout the day.

One noted consideration is the negative effect of temperature change on the body. For example, using air conditioning en route to the call may not be the best for personnel. Windows open and non-air conditioned cabs help to acclimate personnel to what they’ll face during the call.

Even keeping thermostats at the station set a more moderate level is beneficial. Prevention is as, if not more, important as the cooling during rehab. Avoid rapid, extreme temperature changes.

If you are looking for research that discusses the entire cooling perspective among firefighters be sure to read this report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information that compares active and passive cooling for firefighter rehabilitation.

Keep cool this summer and treat your body like it is the only you have, because it is the only one you have.

Dr. Lindsey is the coordinator/lecturer for the University of Florida Fire and Emergency Service degree program. He serves as the chief learning officer for Health Safety Institute. He retired from the fire service as chief of Estero (Fla.) Fire Rescue. Dr. Lindsey earned his doctorate and master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from USF. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fire and safety engineering from the University of Cincinnati. He also has earned his chief fire officer designation and is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program. He was the 2011 recipient of the James O Page Leadership Award from IAFC. You can contact Jeffrey at