Firefighters adjust to extreme summer temps, new vehicle deployed to help with heat

Peoria Fire-Medical Department recruit Colin Morse opens the trunk of a prop car to help put out a fire during a training exercise, July 3, at Glendale Regional Public Safety Training Center. When temperatures reach extreme highs during the summer, the department shifts many of its activities, like this one, to earlier in the day. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]

By Philip Haldiman and Roger Ball
Independent Newsmedia

The summer heat is brutal enough here in the Valley.

But imagine being a firefighter, when oftentimes there is no way to avoid the perils of triple-digit temperatures.

So when the hot weather comes around, pubic safety officials need to adjust their activities.

Peoria Fire-Medical Department spokesman Mike Selmer said personal health is important during this time of year. This includes continuing to educate the public on the importance of hydration, sun block and staying out of direct sunlight as much as possible.

The  same goes for fire fighters. But sometimes staying inside just isn’t possible, he said.

The heat forces firefighters to adjust their training schedules in the summer.

Training — laying hoses, deploying ladders, connecting hydrants and stretching hose lines — is often shifted to earlier in the day or the evening.

Additionally, when the department gets a working fire and the outside temperature is hotter than 105 degrees, an extra fire engine is sent to the site.

So a typical 3-1 assignment — three engines and one ladder truck — will actually increase to four engines and a ladder truck, Mr. Selmer said.

“We also do quarterly, minimum company standards, that include getting fully turned out — coats, pants, hood, helmet — and throwing on our air packs, all for time. We will do ladder truck functions that include setting up the big truck, extending the ladder and flowing water through the ladder pipe,” he said.

“Some of our specialty crews have additional training. Technical rescue crews set up rope-rescue scenarios and confined space rescues in addition to water rescue training. Rescue-boat operators assigned to Lake Pleasant have an assortment of water-rescue techniques they work on. These are a handful of the different ways we train but not all.”

When firefighters are out in the field battling fires, they becomes doubly susceptible to the intense summer heat.

Arizona Fire and Medical Authority recently deployed its newest vehicle, Rehab 101, which provides relief and medical treatment to firefighters who must operate under extreme temperature conditions for long periods of time.

Rehab 101 is available to firefighters to replenish fluids, receive cooling therapy, and monitor blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart health to assure they are fit to return to a fire.

The budgeted cost for the unit is $185,000. It is stationed in Sun City West but will respond to any community that needs the specialized vehicle.

Brad Puckett, AFMA captain in the support services section, had primary responsibility of equipping the rehab unit.

If needed, the unit can be used to safely transport personnel to medical facilities or to reshuffle staffing.

There is even a toilet on board, which is often needed at long-term situations.

Though most often associated with major high temperature situations, Mr. Puckett said the unit can also be used when an on-scene commander determines there is a health and safety need for it. This could include hazardous materials situations, lengthy technical rescues, wildfires and law enforcement assistance, he said.

“We have everything we need to assist firefighters in extreme and lengthy conditions,” he said.

AFMA serves more than 275 square-miles and 75,000 residents within Maricopa County and surrounding municipalities such as Peoria when needed.

Fire departments in the metropolitan area use an automatic aid system for dispatching. The closest available needed type of unit is dispatched regardless of jurisdiction.

Eric Kriwer, AFMA deputy chief and fire marshal, said during the summer months the Phoenix Regional Dispatch Center will automatically add one additional advanced life support engine company and a rehab unit on all working fires.

Mr. Kriwer said there are four rehab units in the Valley fire automatic aid system: Phoenix, Mesa, Gilbert and Superstition Fire & Medical District in Apache Junction. All units can respond Valley-wide, but travel time to reach West Valley communities could be problematic, he said.

“Firefighter safety and rehabilitation is paramount to successful mitigation on any incident,” Mr. Kriwer said.

Ron Puchta, United Sun Cities Firefighters Association chapter vice president, said he is glad to see this new piece of equipment put into service because there are very few such vehicles in the metro area – especially in the West Valley.

“Being able to help firefighters who have undergone serious heat stress will improve health and longevity — both in the daily work cycle at fire scenes, but also in later life,” Mr. Puchta said.

“We feel there is a need in the West Valley and automatic aid system for an additional rehab unit. This will give us a chance to give back to the system. We often have a lot of special equipment respond to our community, now we can return the favor.”

Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, phaldiman@newszap.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.

Roger Ball can be reached at  623-876-2523 or rball@newszap.com.



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