Anyone working outside last week can attest to the effects of working in oppressive heat. It's very different than working in the extreme cold, where you can keep warm with multiple layers of clothing. In the heat, you can't peel enough clothing off, you wickedly perspire and need to keep yourself hydrated with liquids.
There are few occupations where people actually don heavy safety clothing to enter enclosed places hundreds of degrees hotter than the outdoors. That's the job of firefighters. Whether volunteer or paid, your community's smoke-eaters make a habit of running into places that people are running out of — in all types of weather.
And as luck would have it, during the so-far hottest week of the year, there were numerous structure fires across the region, requiring the services of our volunteer firefighters. And they responded with the same diligence as they would at any other time of the year.
With temperatures reaching well into 90 degrees last week, firefighters performed admirably in extreme conditions. Quickly getting into their safety clothing — heavy bunker pants and coat with boots, helmet and Nomex hood — they throw on their SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), which weighs 20 to 30 pounds depending on the weight of the air cylinder, and carrying a fully charged one-and-three-quarter inch hoseline quickly move into the structure to find the source of the fire, often in very confined quarters.
It's not an easy task during normal weather conditions. And when you add the oppressive heat to the equation, it can sap a firefighter's strength and agility in a matter of minutes. The situation can become nasty very quickly, too.
Rest and hydration is important when it's very hot. Rehab centers are quickly set up on fire scenes where firefighters can cool down and get cold liquids, not unlike winter firefighting conditions where warmth and hot coffee or soup is a godsend to these community helpers.
And not to forget: Our community firefighters, state certified and trained throughout the year, are mostly volunteer. They don't get paid for putting their lives in jeopardy every time the fire siren sounds and their pagers go off, whether it be 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning.
They brave temperatures in the 90s during the summer and below-zero weather in the winter. For them, it's a calling. It takes a tremendous amount of time to become and stay trained on the latest firefighting technologies, often at the expense of family time. And when the siren goes off, most drop what they're doing to respond to someone else's emergency.
They really are our community heroes.