Emergency responders on alert as heat continues to climb

As the extreme heat wave washed over the Lowcountry on Wednesday, emergency calls for heat exposure poured into local fire departments and EMS stations. Paramedics responded to several calls because of the heat.

Both EMS and fire departments are equipped to respond to heat related calls and say that the number of calls is up. Paramedics say those who work outside, play outside or just stay outside for extended periods are most susceptible.

Patients typically show symptoms of dehydration, exhaustion or fainting. Paramedics say they particularly get many emergency calls from those spending the day at the beach or tourists walking around downtown Charleston.

"This is a tourism town. A lot of people come from out of state. They're not acclimated," said St. Andrews Fire Department Capt. Rob Wronski. "They've got three days for vacation so they want to get out and see everything they can see and it takes a while to this kind of heat."

Paramedics say checking on neighbors you see working outside or checking on the elderly is especially important.

The most serious heat illness is heat stroke. If you experience the warning signs, call 911 because it could be life-threatening. Those signs include:

  • high body temperature
  • no sweating
  • headache
  • confusion
  • or rapid pulse

In extreme heat you must promote your personal health and safety, but if you have and emergency... Medical experts are just minutes away by ambulance or fire truck.

On Wednesday, a heat exposure call was dispatched from the St. Andrews Fire Station. In May, the department became DHEC certified to render medical care to patients. Paramedics with the fire department go through extensive training to be able to render care.

If EMS has already sent out their ambulance, the 911 dispatch center will send out the fire department instead for a medical emergency. Basic medical equipment like defibrillators, automated airways, blood sugar equipment and oxygen is on board the truck along with firefighting equipment.

For heat calls, the fire department helps the patient until an ambulance arrives to take them to the hospital.

"If the ambulance stationed here west of the Ashley is out we dispatch along with whatever unit is closest," Wronski said. "We'll get there a little ahead of them and we're able to render life saving aid in some cases."

Because this fire department is in the heart of West Ashley and because it responds to both fire and medical emergencies, this is the busiest station in the county.

Paramedics say the heat exposure calls can range from cramping to the most severe, which is heat stroke. They say people who work or play outdoors should take frequent breaks in the air conditioning, drink plenty of water and if possible limit outdoor activity to morning or evening hours.

"You have the weekend off you're thinking this is a perfect time to go out and mow the lawn, but you forget," Charleston County EMS paramedic Elida Gundersen said. "You think I'm going to rest for the morning then I'm going to go outside, but by the time you go outside the heat index is already 100 degrees. Next thing you know if you're going to come inside, your muscles are cramping and you stop sweating at that point."

Some of the symptoms to look out for heavy sweating, no sweating, cramps, weakness or fainting. If you see someone suffering from the heat first call 911, then get the victim to a shady area cool them off by wetting them with water. Stay on the phone with 911 or call the hospital for further instructions

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