Summer heat takes toll on area firefighters

WESTLAKE, LA (KPLC) - They are there to answer the call of duty, but the intense summer heat can take a lot out of firefighters.

"The problem we're facing out here is the high heat, the dry conditions," said Ward 6 District Capt. Teri Gilland.

Gilland made the comments as firefighters put out the final flames of a house fire on High Hope Road Sunday afternoon.

The fire was contained to the inside of the home and caused no structural damage, but because firefighters from Houston River and DeQuincy had been battling blazes all day, many were visibly exhausted after they extinguished the fire.

"We've already been fighting fires for four hours, therefore we're tired already when we get here," said Gilland.

Over in Westlake, veteran fireman Jason Lionberger, with the Westlake Fire Dept., knows a lot about fighting the scorching heat of the outdoors.

"In the summer, it gets a little challenging," said Lionberger.

Lionberger said the trick is to stay hydrated.

"You can't do this job without drinking water," said Lionberger. "We try to stay hydrated. Each morning, we start drinking water and do so throughout our 24 hour shift."

It's important for firefighters to stay hydrated because they have to carry and wear several pounds of gear.

Inside a typical fireman's suit, temperatures can soar fast.

"Probably about 100-200 degrees, and that's probably on the low side," said Lionberger. "It gets pretty hot."

During the summer months, area fire departments set up rehabs near the location they are responding to.

"They're checked out medically, their blood pressure and vital signs," said Gilland. "They have to stay in rehab a certain amount of time before they are allowed to go back in."

In addition, Lake Charles Fire Chief Keith Murray said the heat means more firefighters from his department will respond to a single call than other times of the year, because each fireman is only allowed to fight the fire for so long before they are relieved by a team member.

Lionberger said it's common for firefighters to carry a chest of ice and water with them on their trucks when they go out on a call.

And though the job isn't easy, it's one they will never stop doing.

"It's going to be a long summer," said Lionberger.

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