By Lt. Col. John Duda
21st Space Wing Safety Office
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — At some point in your childhood you probably heard someone say “use some common sense.” The problem is common sense is not that common. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have to remind others to “use it.” Instead, we need to use good judgment and decision making when we are doing all the things we love to do in the summer. This is especially true if we have pets or minor children.
Recently, a family member was out jogging in the heat with their family pet, and the heat took its toll. Unfortunately the dog died.
We must make good decisions and use sound judgment to keep them safe from the hazards we might expose ourselves to — they need us to be “on the details.” Unfortunately, when we don’t Assess the risk, Consider appropriate options and Take appropriate actions, we may expose our children and pets to unnecessary hazards that could cause fairly significant injury or even loss of life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, heat-related deaths and illness are preventable yet annually many people succumb to extreme heat. Historically, from 1979-2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States. During this period, more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. In 2001, 300 deaths were caused by excessive heat exposure.
If you have children, or were a child (I think that covers all of us), you have heard or said, “I didn’t know” at some point in your life when a mistake was made. Of course, in legal and compliance matters, ignorance is not an excuse; however our mission today is to increase your knowledge and empower you to make good decisions — especially for your children and pets. There are many resources for military personnel and their families to go to find information on preventing heat-related illnesses or death. Here are tips from the American Red Cross, American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the CDC to keep you and the ones you love safe during the summer heat.
If you must be outdoors, try to limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Try to rest often in shady areas so that your body’s thermostat will have a chance to recover.
Stay indoors as much as possible. For pet owners, consider the following from the ASPCA: Pets can get dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of fresh, clean water when it’s hot outdoors. Make sure your pets have a shady place to get out of the sun, be careful to not over-exercise them, and keep them indoors when it’s extremely hot.
If you don’t have air conditioning, go to a mall, a library or a movie theatre that does. Stay there in the heat of the day. Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. If a home is not air-conditioned, people can reduce their risk for heat-related illness by spending time in public facilities that are air-conditioned.
Never leave children or pets alone in enclosed vehicles. Cracking a window or open windows are not the answer — take the kids into the store, leave the pets at home in the air conditioned residence. Don’t let the vehicle run with the animal or child inside…that would be two critical errors in one event. On a hot day, a parked car can become a furnace in no time, even with the windows open, which could lead to fatal heat stroke.
Eat small meals and eat more often. The CDC adds that hot foods and heavy meals add heat to your body.
Avoid extreme temperature changes. Be aware that any sudden change in temperature, such as an early summer heat wave, will be stressful to your body. You will have a greater tolerance for heat if you limit your physical activity until you become accustomed to the heat. If you travel to a hotter climate, allow several days to become acclimated before attempting any vigorous exercise, and work up to it gradually.
Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) along with sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels) 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions. For an infant or child, double the SPF and remember to protect their eyes as well.
Slow down, stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day. We have the ability to sweat to cool our bodies, pets do not. The ASPCA also notes when the temperature is very high, don’t let your dog linger on hot asphalt. Being so close the ground, the dog’s body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can burn. Keep walks during these times to a minimum. A child in a “jogging stroller” is not shielded from heat duress. Put a thermometer in there and see how hot it gets with the sun beating down on it. I think you might reconsider loading the children into one and going for a run in the heat of the day.
Use a buddy system when working in excessive heat. When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your coworkers and have someone do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness.
Take frequent breaks if working outdoors and drink plenty of fluids. During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour. If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning, who spend much of their time alone or who are more likely to be affected by the heat.
Check on animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat. Ensure they have water and a shady place to rest. Symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. They can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit along with an elevated body temperature of more than 104 degrees. Animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.”
There is a lot of information on prevention of heat-related illnesses and injuries. Are these common sense or good sense? We will let the reader decide; however they will help guide your decision-making and keep your pets and children safe.
You are our most important asset so remember: mission first, safety always.