For most of the country, the “hotter than blue blazes” days of summer are upon us. In my local area, we have already seen days within the triple digits, not even factoring in the life-sucking humidity. The dry heat is no better. Hot is hot, and we as law enforcement officers need to remember a few fundamentals when working in the heat. So here are some tips to help officers stay safe during these extreme summer months.
Advanced Cooling Methods – The dog days of summer will see temperatures in many areas exceed 90 and 100 degrees. Most conventional cooling methods will not cut the mustard when the soaring temperatures reach that level. Sitting in the air-conditioned patrol vehicle is fine and dandy until you end up working a scene outdoors on the blacktop when it’s 99 out, and there is no overhead cover. In addition, you often wear materials that do not breathe well, and your vest and equipment add extra layers and weight, putting you at a higher risk of a heat-related injury. Having ice packs on hand, however, will help. Place a few under your armpits while sitting back in your vehicle. Misting fans will also help. It will make you feel more comfortable and help reduce your body’s overall temperature.
A great way you get ahead of the problem is cooling towels. You dip the material into cold water and secure it around your neck. It cools the blood as it passes through your arteries, helping lower your body temperature. There are many brands out there that fit the bill, so find one that works for you and give it a shot.
Exercise – Physical fitness will help you struggle a lot less during these hellish months. So go out and get some physical activity before the temperatures have started to soar or just after they have started to go down. The more exposure you have to the warmer temperatures, the better your body will adjust to them during the more extreme times of the day. Of course, this depends on your shift and schedule. You should already be finding time to work out anyway as a habit.
It is not just exercise that is important. You need to make sure that you get plenty of rest. The summer months are taxing on the body and cause a lot of strain and stress on our system. So it would be best if you took the time to rest so we can recharge.
Hydration and Electrolytes – When you first wake up before your day begins, whenever that may be, go ahead and start pounding some water. The best time to hydrate the body is when we are just starting our days. As the thermometer begins to rise, so should your intake of water. It is not a bad idea to consider drinking at least a gallon of water a day or more. Of course, this will mean more frequent trips to the bathroom and can be frustrating at times, but so is being a heat casualty and dehydrated.
Sometimes the water is just not enough as we sweat and are out in the heat of the day. As a result, the body is depleted of valuable nutrients such as potassium. Sports drinks offer electrolyte replenishment but at the cost of adding unneeded sugars to the equation. There are better supplements out there that you can add to your water intake to help add those much-needed electrolytes. An excellent way to get a jumpstart is a healthy diet. It is better to start with healthy foods before slamming a sugar-filled sports drink.
Control the Scene – When you do take a call that requires exposure to the heat, you are not only at risk, but so is everyone on the scene. Be aware of your surroundings and the situation. If shade is available, move yourself and others to that area. Perhaps the conversation can be had indoors where air conditioning may be available. If you are working a non-injury accident scene, bring people back to your vehicle to get information collected.
Keeping bottles of water in your vehicle is also not a bad idea. You can get cases of water for relatively low prices, and maybe even your agency can and will provide them for you. Being able to pass out water to people on the street during one of your calls not only looks good on the community policing side but also helps keep everyone safe. Why add heat-related stress injuries to your scene if you can avoid them?
The summer heat is no joke. So what are some methods you use to help protect yourself and others during the long days under the hot sun?
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