Episode 137 S4-13
A First Responder's Guide to Staying Safe in Any Weather
Battle for the South Ch 13
The journey continues in Battle for the South, as Vince and Erika head back through the hurricane to help the patients that were left behind at the hospital in Houston. Weather can make the first responder's job very difficult. Here to talk with us this week about weather and how to stay safe as a first responder is Sam Bradley, fire and EMS instructor.
During a natural disaster or SHTF situation, we may all find ourselves employed as first responders. The weather will add a level of difficulty to your task that you need to take into consideration. There is no one element that supersedes another. All weather is a problem. If it is too cold, you and/or the patient could develop hypothermia. If it is too hot, you and/or the patient could develop hyperthermia.
Any precipitation creates problems. You and the patient will be wet and it's hard to get dry. The dampness is uncomfortable and can cause hypothermia as well. You will need a set of reliable rain gear that you can move in. The precipitation can also cause a morale slump which will need to be addressed. Your manual dexterity will be decreased and you may need to adjust rapidly to unknown and changing elements.
Precipitation can also create flooding. You need proper clothing to operate in a flood zone. Be familiar with your area and know what areas frequently flood and where safer places to operate may be. Do not drive a vehicle where you can't see the roadway. It doesn't take much water to wash your vehicle away in the flood. Plus, if you can't see the bottom of the roadway, you won't know if it is still there or not. What if a sink hole opened up underneath?
Walking in a flooded environment also creates problems. An impermeable suit is best. There are many toxins and bacteria in flood water. If you have a water proof suit, you can minimize the risk. In a flood zone there is also a potential for dangerous animals to be present in areas where they are not usually located. In coastal regions the threat of tsunamis must be accounted for.
Wind can also create a major challenge. Your visibility will become decreased and wearing goggles or eye protection is a good idea. Walking and moving in high wind can be very difficult and mobility should be limited. Dangers could come from any direction at any time, including above you. Know what kind of trees and potential dangers could be on the move from high winds. When a victim on the ground, a lot of times first responders get tunnel vision and forget to take into account dangers that still exist in the surrounding area.
Snow is also a very dangerous form of precipitation. It severely limits movement and makes driving hazardous. Know the capabilities of your vehicle and be familiar with how to install chains.
Lighting is another natural element that can challenge you as a first responder. If you can hear thunder, you're close enough to get hit. Avoid trees and power poles. Avoid open fields. Stay in your vehicle whenever possible. Many people believe that the tires will ground the vehicle, this is not true. The vehicle will work as a Faraday cage and protect you from the electricity.
Extreme heat must also be accounted for. People, including you, can rapidly dehydrate, especially as we age. You need the right type of clothing for the environment so you can stay cool. It is a good idea to have a tarp or Easy Up available to provide instant shelter when needed. If your patient is on the pavement, get them off of it as soon as possible. They can develop burns from it. You can pour water over the patient to keep them cool. Also, keep a supply of sports drinks on hand for rapid hydration. However, your patient has to be conscious enough to drink it!
You need to make sure that you and your family are prepared if a natural disaster were to strike. Prepare your family with a solid plan ahead of time. You need to be confident that they can keep themselves safe just in case you are involved with helping others. You need an overstocked emergency kit with specific directions for your family on its location and contents. Training is always a good thing! Get C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team) trained, take a basic first aid class and the Stop the Bleed Training on tourniquet use. Listen to podcasts like The Disaster Podcast to get familiar with first responder issues and how they are being handled.
Make sure you have a car kit prepared. What happens if you get stuck? Make sure you have hydration products, food, and your gas tank is full. Change the contents of your car kit with the seasons so you have the proper gear. In the winter you will want extra hats, body warmers, space blankets, etc. However in the summer, you will want things like water, sunscreen, and electrolytes.
Tips from Sam:
Spread your gear out to multiple locations if possible. That way if one sight is compromised you can move on to another.
Knowledge is priceless so keep learning and training.
Remember your rules of three: Three hours without shelter, three days without water, and three weeks without food.
Have a water filter on hand.
As soon as you know a disaster is heading your way, fill up a bathtub so you have extra water.
Make sure you keep at least three months of food in your house.
Anyone on meds should have extra stocked.
Always keep a pair of heavy shoes or boots by your bed so that if disaster strikes in the night you are not walking across broken glass.
The Changing Earth Series
Sam Bradley, MS, EMT-P, has been in EMS for 38 years as a Paramedic, Clinical and Educational Services Coordinator and ambulance company paramedic field supervisor. She also spent many years as an EMS educator. Sam currently works as a QI consultant and EMS educator for fire departments and communications centers. A prolific writer, she does freelance work for EMS related journals, online publications and textbook publishers. Sam has published a number of fiction stories and is very involved in social media and blogging. Following her passion for disaster EMS, she is the Training Officer for the federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) CA-6. She also dabbles in photography and videography. She is currently residing in Colorado and spends her time working on EMS CE content and writing EMS textbooks and novels. She co-hosts a popular weekly podcast that is in its fifth year. She loves dogs and banana cream pie.