EXCLUSIVE: Firefighters, Paramedics Battle More Than Flames During Summer Months
By Todd Quinones
MIDDLETOWN Twp., Pa., (CBS) – Local firefighters and paramedics train extra hard to take on the intense heat when they are sent out to fight a fire during the soaring summer temperatures – temperatures that make their jobs even more dangerous.
Surrounded by flames and heavy smoke, firefighters face dangerous odds.
“Room and contents temperatures can get up to 1,200 degrees, so they are in a hostile environment,” Middletown Fire Company Fire Chief Chip Lillie said.
And what happens inside their bodies push them to the limits and beyond, as they carry 30 pound air tanks while wearing gear that retains body heat.
“The dangers are heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” Chief Paramedic for Riddle Hospital Keith Laws said.
This is what’s known as fire ground rehabilitation.
Paramedics who are sent to fires, solely to look after firefighters.
“They’re saving our lives while we’re saving somebody else’s lives,” Middletown Fire Company Asst. Chief Brian Decker said.
These paramedics with Riddle Hospital in Delaware County train right along with firefighters at this live burn drill in Folcroft.
On a really hot day, it can take less than 20 minutes for a firefighter’s core body temperature to increase to dangerous levels.
“We look for the signs of fatigue, the discoloration in the face of being red or flushed,” Deputy Chief Paramedic for Riddle Hospital Eugene Smith said.
These paramedics monitor heart rates and blood pressure, looking to stave off heat stroke — sometimes forcibly pulling firefighters out of the rotation.
“You’re no good to us if you’re in there and you have to go down with heat exhaustion or something,” Chief Lillie said.
The Riddle paramedics advocate the use of fans, wet towels and room temperature water.
“So we don’t cause them to send their body into shock by giving them water that is too cold for them,” Deputy Chief Smith said.
For serious cases, an ambulance is always set aside specifically to take a firefighter to the hospital.