FORT BENNING, Ga. (June 12, 2013) -- As temperatures begin to rise, Fort Benning safety officials said early precautions and immediate actions of commanders and leaders are key in preventing severe heat injuries.

Jill Carlson, Fort Benning director of safety, said although temperatures are not expected to be as high as last year's record heat, the same heat mitigation requirements are still in effect.

"This time last year our heat was already in the 100s, so we're off to a slow start this year," she said. "We have heat injuries every month of the year, January through December. The requirement for the troops, cadre and the units is by April 15, everyone needs to be training in heat illness prevention."

According to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, exertional heat illness symptoms range in severity from minor illness, such as heat cramps and heat exhaustion, to life-threatening heat stroke. Minor symptoms include dizziness, headache, dry mouth, weakness and muscle cramps.

"We average right around 60 heat injuries a year, but we evacuate 400 to 500 Soldiers a year," Carlson said. "Heat stroke, which is the most severe, has actually gone down based on what commanders have done."

Carlson said commanders and generals have authority to act immediately at the signs of heat illness and modify training events to avoid injuries, such as decreasing the number of miles during a foot march.

Sgt. Andrew Register, brigade medic for the Ranger Training Brigade, said Fort Benning has very unpredictable spring and fall seasons, with the hottest Ranger classes generally operating between April 1 and Oct. 1. He said heat injuries are common and very dangerous, but they are also preventable with identification of the warning signs and some simple steps.

"The first signs of heat injury is when sweating has slowed or stopped," Register said. "This can be preceded by muscle cramps … or the muscle cramps could come after.
"Heat injury is also cumulative. This means that if an individual has been close to a heat injury, than they will be very likely to have problems with hydration and heat-related illness or injury for several days to a week, if the training climate remains the same."
Register said mandatory rest or cool down periods should be taken every hour, a water source should be available at all times and forearm immersion tables should be used when available.

Soldiers are briefed to drink water and to watch for warning signs of heat injury not only in themselves, but to look for symptoms another person may be displaying, he said. If a heat injury is suspected, the individual should be moved to shade, given water and should remove any heavy gear or clothing.

Register said a common mistake is waiting too long to drink water, instead of taking sips every few minutes during activity.

"Usually if someone is thirsty and they have been out in the heat, then their body is already lacking much needed hydration," Register said. "People need to realize that drinking water should be steady and consistent, especially if working or training in the heat or if they are sweating moderately."

According to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, once heat illness is suspected, regardless of the perceived severity, it should be treated as a medical emergency and immediate action should be take to cool the victim. The application of iced sheets is one of the most effective, simple and cost-free methods to treat suspected heat illness. Sheets are placed in a zip-lock bag and placed in a large water cooler filled with ice and water to use when the environment is conducive to heat illness.

Carlson said proper nutrition and use of electrolyte rehydration drinks low in sugar are helpful during activity. She also said similar precautions should be used with children, athletes and animals.

"They're still susceptible to heat injuries and they should look for the signs," she said. "Make sure that pets are hydrated and have shade at all times, because a pet can die from a heat stroke."

Precautions, action key to heat prevention

•Heat stroke -- Defined by a body temperature of greater than 105.1 °F (40.6 °C) due to environmental heat exposure with lack of thermoregulation. Symptoms include dry skin, rapid, strong pulse and dizziness.

•Heat exhaustion -- Can be a precursor of heatstroke; the symptoms include heavy sweating, rapid breathing and a fast, weak pulse.

•Heat syncope -- Fainting as a result of overheating.

•Heat cramps -- Muscle pains or that happen during heavy exercise in hot weather.

•Heat rash -- Skin irritation from excessive sweating.

•Heat tetany -- Usually results from short periods of stress in intense heat. Symptoms may include hyperventilation, respiratory problems, numbness or tingling, or muscle spasms.

About heat illness:

What happens to the human body when heat illness occurs?

• Excessive sweat loss results in dehydration

• The body loses its ability to cool

• Increased blood flow to skin causes decrease in organ function

Treat heat illness with rapid cooling

Preparing and stationing

•Take a large water cooler and fill it with ice and water.

•Place some sheets in a zip-lock bag inside the cooler and have the cooler available when the environment is conducive to heat illness.

1) A good way to assess for confusion is to ask four simple questions:

•What is your name?

•What month/year is it?

•Where are you?

•What activity were you doing when you became ill?

2) If the victim is unable to answer these questions, or suddenly develops unusual behavior such as combativeness, slurred speech, the next steps are to cool and evacuate.

•First, place the victim in the shade or air conditioning. The skin may feel hot and may be dry or sweaty.

•Remove as much of the headgear and outer uniform as possible.

•Remove the iced sheets from the cooler, drench them in the ice water, and place them over all the victim's exposed skin.

•Resoak the sheets in cold water and reapply if they start to warm.

•Fan the victim.

•Ice packs can be placed in the armpits and groin area.

•Call emergency medical services to evacuate the victim.

•Continue to cool until the victim begins to shiver or until the ambulance arrives.

Do not try to evacuate the victim yourself -- focus on cooling. If a victim loses consciousness, check their breathing and pulse and initiate CPR if either is absent.
-- Continue to cool the victim.