Firefighters prepare for extreme heat and humidity

As the temperatures continue to rise and the St. Louis region sees heat and humidity, fire departments are advising people to stay inside if they can.
Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 5:35 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - As the temperatures continue to rise and the St. Louis region sees heat and humidity, fire departments are advising people to stay inside if they can.

However, first responders don’t have the option to stay inside to beat the heat.

St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said when his crews come out of a structure fire, there’s no relief because the heat index is well over 100 degrees on Monday.

“You have to put these firefighters under a spray of water to keep them cool,” Chief Jenkerson said. “We have to get them re-hydrated. We have to get their core body temperature cooled down. It’s a dangerous heat condition.”

With all of the gear on, Chief Jenkerson said it adds an extra 45-50 pounds for firefighters. Plus, firefighters are physically exerting themselves to do their job.

“Dragging the hoses and putting them in place, all the aerial ladders in position, getting your monitors in place,” Chief Jenkerson said.

All of that adds another layer of heat on top of the already hot day.

“It’s nothing for a firefighter to lose 8, 10 pounds on a single call,” Chief Jenkerson said. “And they have to get that water back into them quickly, so it’s very taxing.”

With the nights not offering much of a cool down, he said it will only get worse.

Chief Jenkerson said calls to 911 are already going up today as people are struggling to breathe and is asking people only to call if it is a true emergency.

“You have headaches, you get nauseous, you stop sweating,” Chief Jenkerson said. “Those are all indications that something is not right. Move to a cool space, see if it starts slowing down, hydrate, and if not, then call 911.”

In the Metro East, crews continued to spend the day putting out a fire at a salvage yard that started Sunday night.

The massive Madison County fire brought in crews from all over.

St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency director Herb Simmons said their rehab trailer is used to cool down firefighters, especially during these temps.

“First responders have to be out there,” Simmons said. “Whether it be the firefighters, law enforcement, or paramedic units. They don’t get to pick and choose. They’re all educated to the fact to know what they should be doing.”

Chief Jenkerson said during these high temps, they’ll bring in more manpower, and quickly, to give crews a break.

“The only positive to where we’re at right now is we’re at the end of the summer, so we’ve gotten used to working under these conditions,” Chief Jenkerson said.

Chief Jenkerson is asking for you to help the fire department by keeping yourself cool and safe.

Chief Jenkerson wants you to stay inside as much as you can and pull down the shades inside your home to keep it cool.

If you can check on your neighbors, especially elderly ones, Chief Jenkerson said that is crucial. If they are hot to the touch, that’s when it’s time to bring them inside.

While it’s extremely important to stay hydrated, Chief Jenkerson said it’s also important to avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol during these hot days.