Firefighters must be vigilant to avoid heat injury

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News 12 at 11 o'clock, June 25, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---A firefighter went to the hospital after the fire on Woodrow Street earlier today. Fire officials tell News 12 it took about four hours to put the blaze completely out.

The fire broke out at 1830 Woodrow Street just after 1 o'clock this afternoon. Crews brought out four tanker trucks.

No one was inside the home when it started burning.

Battling a brutal fire in hot weather can often make it difficult for firefighters. Not only are they fighting the intense heat of the fire, but they also have to fight heat exhaustion and dehydration far more often than the average person.

Tonight we visited one of the Richmond County fire companies that battled that fire, and they talked with us about what they do to keep themselves from suffering from heat related illnesses.

"The heat was bad enough today where I felt like I was going to pass out one time," said firefighter Robert Holliday.

Many firefighters in Augusta have experienced that feeling. The beaming sun combined with the heat from flames can make a firefighter's job even harder. It's not uncommon for a firefighter to suffer from dehydration or heat exhaustion, and the intense hot weather can contribute to the frequency of it happening. That's why Richmond County firefighters make sure they take preventive measure as much as possible.

"You can't keep enough fluid," said Jay Jones. "I think everybody drank a couple of gallons of water."

"When they come outside after working a fire, we take vital signs," said Battalion Chief Ivan Bolgla. "We make sure everybody's okay, we make the decision whether to let them go back in or not."

Chief Bolgla says that the equipment and uniform can protect firefighters, but it's up to the firefighters as well.

"You're extremely hot inside, and even when you come outside and take off some of your gear, it's still hot outside," he said. "It's just hard for some of these guys to cool down."

"The biggest complaint is that (firefighting gear is) hot, but that's because it protects you," said Jeffery Hiers. "If we stop moving for a particular amount of time, the alarm will go off to help other firefighters locate us."

With the temperatures reaching beyond 96 degrees and with a heat index over 100, it can feel like a furnace wearing the uniform and equipment. According to firefighters, one of the key things to remember is that the equipment can only protect you so much. They've got to use common sense.

"You just have to know how to control it so it doesn't get you too hot--it doesn't overheat it," Jeffery said.

"The only time it's kind of a bother is getting into crawl spaces and attics and bottoms, but we're trained to deal with that too," Robert said.

"But in that little bit of time, it gets through the gear--I mean you get so used to the gear being great, it's kind of like a false sense of security. You still got to know when to go," Jay said.

"Rehydration of the firefighters once they come out" is paramount, Chief Bolgla said. "Even when they'll leave the scene we will have them stay off duty until they feel comfortable enough."

Medical personnel and EMT crew members are always on hand as well, especially in large fire like the one today.

The firefighters also told us that it can be just as bad in the wintertime, because they can still suffer from heat injuries--plus they can get pneumonia.

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