Keeping cool: Valley agencies readying for Spring Training, summer

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Spring Training and warmer weather are approaching, and Valley fire departments are dishing out the heat in the form of safety tips for residents and visitors.

The Scottsdale Fire Department is once again at the forefront of heat relief efforts at the city’s two Spring Training facilities — Salt River Fields and Scottsdale Stadium.

Deputy Chief Adam Hoster said while the majority of heat-related incidents happen from June to August, awareness is still a year-round issue.

Mr. Hoster attributes some of the incidents to people not being prepared out on hiking trails, not being used to a dry climate or the temperatures the Valley is known to have. Some of the more common culprits are lack of hydration, sun exposure and proper attire.

Over the years, Scottsdale hasn’t seen many heat-related incidents during the Spring Training months — February and March. This year’s slate of games is Feb. 21-March 24. In 2017, Scottsdale Fire only responded to one heat incident between February and March. That increased to nine in 2018, with seven in February. The responses dipped to three in 2019.

However, in the summer months, Scottsdale crews responded to 83 incidents in 2017. That decreased 55 in 2018 but picked back up to 68 in 2019. Incidents occurred increasingly month to month in 2017 but reversed over the same three months in 2019.

Mr. Hoster said the fire department has gone out to major resorts in the city — which likely attract out-of-area visitors — and has handed out cue cards to staff, reminding them to let patrons know the Dos and Don’ts if they are going out to any of the city-maintained trailheads.

When Spring Training rolls around, the Scottsdale Fire Department has standby medical crews at every home game. Medical crews consist of three or four 2-person walking teams, with kits for emergencies. Another set of two crew members utilize a medical cart, which contains a gurney in case someone needs transport to an ambulance outside of the stadium.

Heat Emergencies

Before the summer begins, the Scottsdale Fire Department usually sends out a press release or posts to social media, reminding people about heat stress, the signs and symptoms, and the differences between heat cramps and heat exhaustion, the former which precedes the latter. And heat stroke is the worst of them.

Heat cramps entail profuse sweating, fatigue, extreme thirst and muscle cramps.

Heat exhaustion entails headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea or vomiting, and cool/moist skin.

A heat stroke, the deadliest of the three, may mean an elevated temperature (103+ degrees), confusion/irrational behavior, dry/hot skin, rapid shallow breathing, rapid weak pulse, seizures and unconsciousness.

Those most at risk for heat emergencies are children, the elderly, obese individuals, those consuming alcohol, and those with certain medical conditions or who use certain medicines.

In Maricopa County, heat-caused deaths rose from 32 in 2008 to 119 in 2018, part of the 182 “heat-associated” deaths that year, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. There were 69 confirmed heat-associated deaths by October of 2019 and 131 that are under review for that year, the county said, slightly ahead of the 2018 pace.

If someone is experiencing any type of heat emergency, get them into shade or a cool location; cool them with wet clothes in the neck, groin, armpits and head, and fan the body; provide water if the person is alert; massage any muscle cramps gently but firmly; and if symptoms worsen, call 911.

More Spring Training

Over in Mesa, the Mesa Fire and Medical Department staffs Sloan Park and Hohokam Stadium with medical personnel utilizing a 4-person bike team. The team divides into two groups of two and sets posts in the outfield and home plate areas. There is also a paramedic in a first-aid tent.

A collection of officials also works out of a Unified Command Post, where security and usher traffic are monitored.

Similar to Scottsdale, Mesa Fire sees the majority of their heat-related calls from June to August — of 850 total heat-related calls from 2015 to 2019, 635 occurred in those three months.

Spring training months — February and March — totaled 25 calls.

“The winter visitors also play a factor at Spring Training games,” said Jean DeStories, community outreach officer with Mesa Fire. “Even at 75-80 degrees, attendees at Spring Training games can have a heat illness issue being in the sun for 2-3 hours! People need to hydrate with water prior to going out into the heat and while enjoying a game in the heat.

“Climatization may be necessary so a person could enjoy the game without succumbing to a heat related injury.”

The Mesa Fire and Medical Department also uses social media to remind people of heat-related issues, signs and symptoms and prevention.

Tanja Tanner, community risk reduction coordinator with the Goodyear Fire Department, says that normal heat-related injuries are mainly due to long term exposures — especially for outside workers in construction, landscaping, etc.

“We will see some [sic] the older adult population that do not turn on their air conditioners to an appropriate temperature to avoid heat related illness,” Ms. Tanner said “Medications that interfere with body temperatures, like blood pressure medication. Drinking coffee, sodas and energy drinks do not count towards water intake, as people like to believe.”

“People just assume they are drinking enough water not realizing how much is lost with extended hours in the heat,” she continued. “Not taking enough shade breaks or cooling breaks throughout the day, your core temperature reaches a limit.”

Specific to Goodyear, the city’s internal In-Focus magazine is delivered to every household and covers a variety of safety messages. The March 2020 edition will have a section of heat-related safety messages.

Ms. Tanner said people need to focus on hydration, taking breaks in the shade, covering skin with long sleeves, wearing wide-brim hats, and avoiding the hottest part of the day — usually 3-6 p.m. — for activities. 

“With over 200+ people moving to Arizona a day, sadly these messages are necessary for the new residents as well as the many visitors we receive,” Ms. Tanner said.

Other Cooling Efforts

It’s not just fire departments making life safer for people when it comes to the heat. Cities themselves are doing their part.

In Goodyear, officials are planning to find ways to add trees to pedestrian and bike paths and at gathering spots in the city.

The Maricopa Association of Governments recommends 50% shade coverage as a minimum standard, or “safe” designation, for pedestrian routes and gathering spaces, 60% shade coverage for a “comfortable” standard and 75% for a “destination” standard for major gathering spaces or spaces with a lot of elderly pedestrians.

Goodyear commissioned a study that found only 16% of developed areas had shade coverage. The United States Forest Service recommends 30% coverage for arid regions, which Goodyear and other Valley cities are part of.

Peoria has also taken initiative in providing more shade to people at the city’s bus stops, trailheads and other places.

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