Heat creates training challenges
July 24, 2013
Fort Jackson, S.C. -- There was little shelter from the heat on the ranges last Friday. The sound of gunfire echoed through the surrounding fields, and beads of sweat clung to the few patches of skin that were exposed to the afternoon daylight. Other than a few clouds in the sky, there was nothing between the young men and women taking part in Basic Combat Training that day besides sunscreen and a lot of vigilance.
Canteens were filled at stations set up around the range and, when they weren't actively learning, Soldiers were instructed to seek whatever shelter from the sun that was available. It was the kind of day in which the Soldiers relaxed for a moment between lessons by submerging their arms in a trough filled with ice water.
In other words, it was a typical summer day of training at Fort Jackson.
But it takes a lot of planning and education to be able to conduct even the most mundane activities during the summer, said Mary Reardon, a safety specialist for the Fort Jackson Safety Center.
"In the last eight years, we've had five fatalities that were heat related," Reardon said. "It's something we take very seriously."
Ordinarily, the body rids itself of heat through the skin and by breathing. Some heat is discharged by radiation from the skin, but the body relies mostly on evaporation of sweat from the skin to cool. This process becomes more difficult when temperatures rise above 80 degrees, and is further complicated by factors like age, weight, health, activity and hydration needs.
This summer has been unusually cool, which is all the more reason to maintain vigilance, Reardon said.
"One thing people get concerned about in the summer is dehydration, but we've only had three (serious heat injury) cases this year," she said, and those incidents took place in October, November and January. "In the cooler months, people don't drink as much water. But the cadres are doing a really good job at monitoring Soldiers."
Heat injuries are tracked and reviewed weekly, she said, creating a picture of how the injuries happened and how they impact their missions.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related injury, but also the least common, Reardon said. Heat strokes cause the body to stop sweating, which raises the internal temperature and can cause damage to the kidneys, heart and brain.
"The second most dangerous heat injury is rhabdomyolysis. It can happen at any time of the year,
but there is a steep increase in the hot months," Reardon said. "With rhabdomyolysis, the skeletal muscle breaks down and damages the kidneys, and people can go into renal failure. Only a blood test will determine if someone has rhabdomyolysis."
While drinking too little water on hot days can lead to illness, so can drinking too much water, said Vernell Sample, safety specialist for Fort Jackson Safety Center.
"In cadre training, we work to ensure the cadre members don't have (Soldiers) drinking more than 1.4 quarts of water per hour," Sample said. "Drinking too much water can cause hyponatraemia, an electrolyte disturbance that can lead to congestive heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure and pneumonia."
Drill sergeants keep track of how much water a Soldier drinks by using Ogden beads, which are worn in full view on Army uniforms.
"There are six beads, and each one correlates to one quart of water consumed," Reardon said. "For each quart of water consumed, the Soldier will move the bead, as the unit dictates."
The beads are also used to keep track of individual health issues.
"They're color-coded," Sample said. "It the beads are red, it means the Soldier had a prior heat injury. Blue is for a prior cold injury, and yellow represents some form of allergy. The cadres also use what is known as Leader Cards to identify high-risk Soldiers, people with prior health issues, or age and weight factors."
The post also modifies work requirements throughout the day as temperatures change. Sample said Soldiers are allowed to modify their uniforms to allow for rising temperatures. At Heat Category 3, which is when outdoor temperatures reach 85-88 degrees, Soldiers are allowed to remove body armor and Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear, unless they're working at a high-risk range. They can also unblouse their trousers and remove Interceptor body armor.
At Heat Category 4, which is when temperatures rise to 90 degrees, they can remove their combat helmets, if they're not at a high-risk range. These uniform items can add significantly to a Soldier's heat index.
When these measures fail to prevent heat injury, training locations are equipped with heat-specific first aid tools. Iced sheets, wet sheets stored in ice coolers, are used to help stabilize a Soldier's body temperature at training locations when emergencies arise.
Reardon said training sessions are conducted regularly at all levels to enforce safety measures, for Soldiers and civilian employees, alike. Heat safety training is conducted annually at the cadre level as a means of creating a platform to share questions and concern with command.
Sample said heat safety training is mandatory for all personnel, and conducted so frequently that weekly sessions are required to manage training demands.
"We hold classes targeting what industry they're in and what kind of precaution they need to use," Sample said. "The mission safety folks will go out to the ranges and spot check the units. We take this very seriously."
HEAT INJURY PREVENTION
Drink lots of fluids. Avoid fluids that contain alcohol, caffeine or sugar. Don't wait until you get thirsty. It might be too late by then. As your body gets dehydrated, you feel less thirsty, although you need more fluids.
Wear loose-fitting clothes and a hat. This allows sweat to evaporate -- which is your biological cooling mechanism.
At the first sign/symptom of heat stress, get out of the sun, rest and slowly rehydrate. When in doubt about the type of heat stress, seek medical help.
The signs of heat exhaustion are cool, clammy, pale skin; sweating; dry mouth; fatigue/weakness;
dizziness/headache; nausea/vomiting; and/or muscle cramps and weak pulse.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention is required. The signs are: Very high temperature; hot, dry, red skin; no sweating; deep breathing, fast pulse followed by shallow breathing, slow pulse; dilated pupils; confusion, delirium, and/or convulsions.
Some prescribed medications and sun don't mix well. Some examples are water pills and mind altering or antispasmodic medications. Check with your doctor and medicine labels.
Use sunblock and build up sun/heat tolerance gradually.
Plan strenuous activities early or late in the day to avoid the hot midday to late afternoon period.
Never leave small children unattended in automobiles or other enclosed areas with poor ventilation.