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DRY-HEAT DEADLY: Officials warn of danger, offer resources for summertime safety

Posted 6/12/19

By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

While federal agencies announced heat warnings across the Western U.S., local officials are providing resources and information to help Valley residents stay …

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DRY-HEAT DEADLY: Officials warn of danger, offer resources for summertime safety


By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

While federal agencies announced heat warnings across the Western U.S., local officials are providing resources and information to help Valley residents stay safe this summer.

Arizona’s unseasonably cool springtime weather gave way to real summer swelters this week as forecasts and mercury rose into the 110s, prompting the warnings.

“Excessive heat will continue across much of the West, from the Desert Southwest to the Pacific Northwest, as a ridge of high pressure expands. Heat warnings and/or advisories are in effect for a number of major metro areas; including Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento and San Francisco,” according to a statement issued at the National Weather Services website, www.weather.gov.

The excessive heat warning runs through Thursday.

To prevent heat-related death and injury, the service recommends the following:

  • Check in with the elderly, sick and homebound to be sure their AC is in good working order and that those at risk have proper hydration.
  • Limit strenuous outdoor activities, find shade and drink plenty of water.
  • Never leave children or pets in unattended vehicles — Look before you lock!
  • Take frequent water breaks and seek out shade when working around the home or at outdoor job sites.

Joseph Winchell, MD, serves as an emergency management physician and as EMS medical director at Banner Desert Medical Center and the Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa.

He said an ounce — or many ounces — of prevention can go a long way to preventing illness or injury.

“Worst case scenario is when we develop heatstroke,” Dr. Winchell explained. “That’s when we overcome our physiological ability to dissipate heat. Normally, the most efficient way the human body loses heat is through sweating and evaporative cooling. When people are overcome with heat, they’ve exhausted that mechanism and can no longer produce sweat or do it effectively.”

He said in Arizona’s heat, those working or playing outdoors — or those driving around without air conditioning — can safely drink large amounts of water to prevent heatstroke.

There’s little risk of harm from drinking too much water, a condition known as water intoxication, since the body can normally sweat and evaporate the water as fast as we can take it in.

A key risk comes when the body’s core temperature rises, bringing symptoms which may cloud the judgment of someone at risk, which poses a special threat to those who live outdoors, he said.

“They have changes in their mental status, they become confused,” Dr. Winchell said. “They don’t seek hydration. They don’t seek shelter. So, they just sit there and cook, for lack of a better term … A lot of our homeless population don’t have access to shelter or fluids and when our police officers or paramedics find them, they’re unconscious and suffering from heatstroke.”

Heatstroke begins when the body’s core temperature reaches 104 degrees. The condition can lead to permanent injury and may be fatal once the core temperature reaches 107 degrees.

Whether homeless or homeowner, it’s important for anyone exposed to prolonged outdoor activity to know the signs of heatstroke and get help immediately when necessary, the doctor said.

Local help

The Maricopa Association of Governments hosts a network of sites, where locals can get water and other resources when the heat gets to be too much.

The agency launched the Heat Relief Regional Network after a week-long heat wave killed more than 30 homeless people in 2005. Just last year alone, excessive heat contributed to 181 deaths in Arizona, according to the agency.

“Each year, MAG coordinates the mapping of the Heat Relief Network, a network of partners providing hydration stations, refuge locations, and water donation sites throughout the Valley with the goal of preventing heat-related and heat caused deaths among vulnerable populations and people experiencing homelessness,” according to a statement published at azmag.gov.

Their purpose is to educate residents on the dangers of heat exposure and how to prevent harm or injury, as well as fostering a network of regional providers to assist the homeless, seniors, the home-bound and others at risk.

Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney, who chairs the MAG Regional Council, issued this warning in a MAG press release last month.

“Most of us are aware of the danger to vulnerable populations, such as those experiencing homelessness and older adults. We also need to realize that even those in good physical shape can die in the heat and to heed heat warnings,” stated Mr. Barney.

Among last year’s reported heat-related deaths, 73% of victims were over age 50, while 27% were aged 20-49. 75% of heat injuries occurred outdoors and 23% of deaths happened on days for which an excessive heat warning was issued, according to the agency.

Partnering with municipalities, nonprofit organizations, faith-based communities and businesses, MAG coordinates a regional map of dozens of heat refuges, hydration stations and donation sites. Emergency heat relief sites are also available for those in particular distress.

The interactive map provides locations and contact information for stations across the Valley with locations as far west as Surprise and Buckeye, as far north as Anthem or Fountain Hills and as far east as Apache Junction and Queen Creek.

Groups who want to partner with MAG to support the network may visit the website to learn more and apply.

Child & pet safety

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office hosts a website — safekidsaz.org/heatstroke — which focuses on information to keep children safe during the hotter season. The agency says children are especially vulnerable to rising temperatures.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to heatstroke in hot cars because their body temperature can rise up to five times faster than an adults,” according to information posted at the website. “In fact, heatstroke is the leading cause of non-collision fatalities for children 14 and younger, even though most heatstroke deaths that occur in cars are 100% preventable.”

Even while we’re enjoying the comfortably cool 60s outside or in a car parked under shade, inside an enclosed automobile, the ambient temperature can quickly rise above 110 degrees.

A child or pet trapped in such a vehicle faces even greater risks during the summer months when temperatures soar toward 120 degrees.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 1998 through April 2018, vehicular heatstroke claimed the lives of 744 children in the U.S. Among those, 54% were left in a vehicle unintentionally; 27% got inside by themselves and became trapped; and 18% were left inside intentionally.

More prevention tips

As part of MCAO’s Vehicular Heatstroke Campaign, which runs through August 31, officials offered the following advice:

  • Never leave a child or an animal alone in a parked car — even with the windows rolled down or air conditioning on.
  • Always check the back of the vehicle before locking the door and walking away.
  • Never let children play in an unattended vehicle.
  • Always lock your vehicle doors and trunk and keep the keys out of a child’s reach. If a child is missing, quickly check all vehicles, including their trunks.
  • If dropping a child off is not part of your normal routine, take steps to remind yourself that the child is in the car.

Some examples of reminders are: placing something you need to take with you in the back seat next to the car seat so that you’ll check the back seat before you leave; set a reminder on a cell phone or calendar; or instruct your daycare provider to call you if your child does not show up.

Understandably, pets face the same risks as children when left unattended in hot cars.

Some signs of heat stroke in children include:

  • Red, hot and moist or dry skin
  • No sweating
  • Strong, rapid pulse or slow, weak pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Irritable or strange behavior

For pets, the warning signs include: loud, rapid panting; excessive thirst; vomiting or diarrhea; weakness; seizures; glazed eyes; weakness or collapse.

For any child or pet showing signs of heatstroke, get medical attention immediately.

If you see a child or pet locked in a hot car, call 911 before attempting to access the vehicle.