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Extreme heat creates safety issues for Iowa firefighters

Amy Hansen, Creston News Advertiser, Iowa –

Protective boots, trousers, coat, hood, helmet, gloves and self-contained breathing apparatus.

This is the structural firefighting gear firefighters have to wear at the scene of a house fire and it weighs between 60 and 70 pounds.

Now, mix that heavy gear with a forecast of 95 degrees and heat index in the triple digits.

“It’s uncomfortable,” said Creston Fire Chief Todd Jackson. “It’s hot. It’s dangerously hot at times like this.”

The purpose of structural gear is to encapsulate firefighters to protect them from the heat of the fire. However, this means it also holds in firefighters’ body heat.

When temperatures outside soar, it means firefighters have to take more breaks to cool off at the scene of a fire. More emergency personnel can also be required to help switch out and rotate crews.

During an interview Thursday afternoon at Creston Fire Station, Jackson said the department’s fire pager went off twice the day before.

“I cringed both times because it’s like … nobody wants to be out in this heat, but we really don’t want to be fighting structure fires at a time like this,” Jackson said. “It’s just too unbearable.


When at the scene of a fire, rehabilitation is done on firefighters. An ambulance crew is there to be in charge of rehabilitation and help hydrate with water after each firefighter has gone through one bottle of air.

Ambulance crews check vitals, blood pressure, pulse, oxygen level and temperature.

“At a house fire, the adrenaline’s going. You don’t notice it,” Creston firefighter Ray Ott said of the heat. “You’re trying to think of what you’re responsibilities are, what you need to be doing, getting it done as fast as possible so you can get it done.”

Whether it’s 60 degrees or 100 degrees, there is always going to be extreme heat for firefighters inside a house fire.

Unfortunately, on hot summer days, the elements outside can also become a factor at the scene of a fire.

“Yes, you have those times,” Afton Fire Chief Jim Krantz said, “and the worst part of it is sometimes safety becomes a huge issue there, because we want to get them out of that turnout gear as quick as possible and get them cooled down and get them in rehab.”

He added, there are safety concerns when firefighters take off their jackets just to stay cooler, especially in wildland fires.


Creston firefighters have structural gear or wildland gear to wear when combating a fire.

Wildland gear, which is lighter weight, is designed for protection against flash fires outside in the elements.

If a hay bale were on fire, Jackson said he would grab his wildland gear.

Creston firefighters wear heavier structural gear 95 percent of the time when responding to a fire.

Afton firefighters only have the heavy structural firefighting gear, not the wildland gear.

Jackson expressed concern for all volunteer firefighters who work their regular jobs during the day in extreme heat who then fight a fire in the evening.

“Then, they’ve been exposed to high heat, which is a wear on their bodies, and then to fight a fire on top of it, that makes it worse,” he said.

One main warning sign at the scene is when firefighters start to get sick or throw up.

“That’s just one kind of one step below heat stroke,” Jackson said. “Your body’s trying to compensate.”

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