heat safety
Fort Benning Soldiers cool off in an arm immersion cooling system, a tool available to every unit on post.

FORT BENNING, Ga. (July 25, 2012) -- According to the Fort Benning Safety Office, the number of yearly heat injuries has been in decline since 2009. Typically the installation averages 64 incidents per year, among trainees and cadre, that require a day or more of hospitalization.

"We're catching it early," said Jill Carlson, safety director. "It's from the commanders' proactive actions on the ground. They're actually mitigating the heat."

There are a number of heat-mitigation tools the Safety Office provides to units on post to directly combat injuries such as heatstroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps. Here are a few:

Control measures

The Safety Office provides training to show commanders and leaders how certain preventive measures can mitigate the risk of heat injuries. Among these are proper rest, nutrition and hydration, Carlson said.

Commanders also have the authority to modify Soldiers' uniforms or their training events.

"For example, if a unit is doing a 12-mile foot march, they have the option to decrease the number of miles, based on the temperature," Carlson said.

She said leaders have a "no hesitation" notification policy, instituted on post a few years ago, to report any suspected heat injury.

Cooling tools

For a severe heat casualty, Soldiers can be wrapped in "ice sheets," bed sheets kept in ice that can quickly lower an individual's core temperature, Carlson said.

As a preventive tool, misting coolers -- fans blowing out a fine spray of water -- and arm immersion cooling systems can be used to do the same thing: lower a person's body temperature safely but rapidly.

Both are available to all units on post, Carlson said, but the immersion systems are unique to Fort Benning, where they're part of a pilot project directed by Training and Doctrine Command's Office of the Surgeon General.

"We have a 100 (systems) on post," she said. "No other installation has that many."

Heat readings

While many have claimed Georgia is experiencing record highs this year, Carlson said that may not necessarily be true. However, humidity levels are unusually elevated, she said, and that can contribute to heat injuries.

Wet bulb globe temperature readings, which factor in both heat and humidity, are assessed every hour when Soldiers are outside training. The heat category, which ranges from one to five, with five being the most severe, is also broadcast over Range Control.

"Kestrel meters are an additional tool for them," Carlson said. "The wet bulb may be located centrally, and the Soldiers may be training downrange where the reading could be higher."

Two of the devices are provided per company and can give an accurate reading of the heat and humidity from any location in the field.

Safety first

The first sign of a Soldier suffering from a heat injury is typically incoherent speech or stumbling, Carlson said.

At that point, she said, the person's temperature is taken, ice sheets are applied, emergency personnel are notified, and the individual is evacuated to Martin Army Community Hospital.

"One loss of a Soldier out of a formation due to something that's preventable is unacceptable," Carlson said.

"As long as we have the ability to prevent accidents or at least promote and make sure everyone is aware, then it gives commanders another tool to make sure of the safety of their Soldiers."

Page last updated Wed July 25th, 2012 at 00:00