Fighting the heat isn’t just a summertime concern for Utah firefighters

Jul 19, 2022, 9:30 AM

Two firefighters walk outside a scene....

Salt Lake City firefighters work at the scene of a shed fire in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 18, 2022. Firefighters wear the same gear, year-round regardless of heat. (Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)

(Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)

TOOELE, Utah — The temperatures this week continue to hover near 100 degrees. And we’ve got several wildfires burning across the state, with hundreds of firefighters out in the heat every day.

Doctors are continue to warn us to be extra cautious in the heat, but for our Utah firefighters, the dangers of heat exhaustion are no stranger.

Jon Smith, the public information officer for the North Tooele Fire District, said firefighters prepare all year long to work in the heat.

Utah firefighters train year-round

“How we stay cool, essentially, is how we stay cool when we train. Not a whole lot changes for us. We train for this kind of heat year-round. We wear the same kind of stuff fighting wildfires in January as we do in 107-degree record heat in July.” Smith said, adding, “So luckily, when temperatures like this hit and big fires like this hit, we’re already ready and prepared mentally, physically and procedurally to take on anything that may come in front of us.”

Smith said heat exhaustion is a risk for firefighters all year round since crews can be fighting fires in 350 to 400-degree heat for extended periods of time.

And for wildland fires, firefighters’ gear and protective clothing remain the same regardless of the temperature.

For those fires, Smith said, “We wear the same gear whether its 34 degrees or 134 degrees.”

Smith explained that firefighters train in the same gear they fight in and always wear the same gear regardless of temperature because weather conditions can change quickly.

Teams keep an eye out for each other

Another important step firefighters take to navigate high temperatures is relying on each other.

“We rely heavily on our firefighting buddies to kind of keep an eye on us, [to] see if we’re looking woozy, if we’re red in the cheeks, red in the face, red in the ears,” Smith said.

Firefighters communicate with each other to stay safe and pull back when they need to. 

“You put the safety and the life of yourself in the hands of another and they do the same for you,” Smith said, adding that everyone on the team knows they are functioning as a unit. “If any part of that unit fails, you’re only as strong as your weakest team member.”

When someone overheats, Smith said, they can go outside to remove their gear and rehydrate. If needed, they can get fluids through an IV from EMTs. And when they’re ready, they go back to work.

Firefighters showing signs of exhaustion, whether heat-related or stemming from mental strain, find support from their team.

“If somebody needs to be pulled back, we’ve got their back,” Smith said.

Becky Bruce contributed to the reporting of this story.

Related: Firefighters work to protect Chalk Creek Hieroglyphs

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Fighting the heat isn’t just a summertime concern for Utah firefighters