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Fighting heat when fighting fires

Extreme temperatures can cause serious problems for fire departments.

Posted: May. 29, 2018 7:57 AM

ROCHESTER, Minn. – Byron Fire Department responded to a garage fire on Sunday, putting the fire out in 97 degree weather.

Last week, firefighters from five different departments spent hours in high temperatures responding to a large house fire in Dodge Center.

At both incidents, firefighters were treated for dehyrdation by ambulances on scene. 

Chad Kuhlman is a firefighter with the Rochester Fire Department. He said hot temperatures don’t necessarily impact a burning fire but can create real problems for those responding to a burning fire.

“The hardest part about fighting any fire in this heat or working at all in this heat is just that of the heat stress,” he said. “For firefighters dressed in full turn out gear at a car accident, at a structure fire…a rescue operation, it can be extremely taxing very fast.”

That ‘turn out gear’ consists of pants, boots, a jacket, a hood, face mask, helmet, gloves, compressed air tank, and whatever extra tools a firefighter may carry when heading into a fire.

This get-up adds three layers and at least 60 pounds to a firefighter before getting to work.

“When we go into a house fire, the temperatures can easily reach 400, 500, 600 degrees,” Kuhlman said.

Add high outside temperatures to this combination, it can get even more dangerous.

"Hydration is key," he said.

On extra hot days, medical ambulances may stay nearby to help treat firefighters on scene.

Ambulances usually give firefighters water and an air-conditioned place to take a break. No chances are taken.

“We get our vitals taken to make for certain we are okay,” Kuhlman said. “If IV access needs to be obtained to continue the hydration process, if we need to be taken to the emergency room…if the thought is there, we’ll go.”

Kuhlman reminds that heat stress can be dangerous for everyone.

“Checked on your loved ones, check on the elderly, when it's hot it matters,” he said. ”Heat stress is a big deal.”

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