Firefighters vital signs watched closely during soaring temperatures


COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) — Heart attack is the number one cause of death for firefighters, according to Columbia Fire Chief Ty Cobb. With 100 plus degree days in the forecast, health is a primary concern for members of the fire service.

“You will sweat normally being outside, now, imagine adding 1000 degrees to that and 60 pounds of gear. You have to have fresh crews in and out to keep firefighters safe,” said Chief Cobb.

News 2 obtained helmet camera of a trailer fire this past Sunday in Columbia. The cause is not yet determined, and nobody was home when firefighters arrived.

Video shows crews in heavy turnout gear, air packs, and masks lugging heavy hoses, and pushing toward the flames that are burning bright and orange just inside the window.

Chief Cobb says it may be 100 degrees outside, but heat temperatures from the fire range from 1000 degrees to 1500 degrees.

“They have to stay hydrated and drink lots of water,” said Chief Cobb.

Chief Cobb showed News 2 the necessary tools of the trade, which include a thick turnout coat that weighs up to 30 pounds. The heavy material is designed to protect firefighters from searing heat, not keep the firefighters cool.

Cobb shows News 2 the mask that is designed to fit over their face. He says the seal must be tight to keep smoke out and fresh oxygen in.

And the chief reminds News 2, while the air is fresh, it is not air conditioned.

“It’s uncomfortable. You work in a strenuous hot environment, you’ll get hot and sweatier, which is why you need crews to get in and out to recheck and refresh,” Chief Cobb said.

Chief Cobb says while crews battled the blaze Sunday, a second team of safety officers was standing by observing the fire scene and the firefighters for signs of distress.

“They watch the fire conditions from the exterior and monitor the firefighter’s condition as they come out in a rehab area, away from the fire scene where EMS monitors them with blood pressure, pulse, while checking oxygen levels.”

Chief Cobb says in these blistering conditions, it is not uncommon to see firefighters hooked up to IV’s to re-hydrate quickly.

“No matter how physically fit you are and no matter how great our equipment has come over 150 years, firefighters still get hurt, firefighters still get exhausted. Heat is very dangerous, and they have to be prepared and in shape.”

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Chief Cobb reminds News 2 that it’s a rewarding job, but 24-hour shifts can also add to a firefighter’s stress load.

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