Firefighters fight off high temperatures

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 21, 2005

About four summers ago, firefighter Trip Felts was battling some flames in the Whaleyville woods.

&uot;We’d had to carry about a thousand feet of hose, dodging downed trees and roots,&uot; he remembered.

Under many pounds’ worth of protective pads and near 100-degree heat, Felts sprayed the brush flames. Then the heat started to take over.

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&uot;I got a funny feeling,&uot; he said. &uot;I couldn’t see too well, and I got weak.&uot;

Felts told another firefighter that he was going to go sit down. He walked into a nearby clearing and removed the pads from his upper body.

&uot;All of a sudden, my whole body cramped up,&uot; he said. &uot;My hands went into claws and my legs came up. My vision got black from both sides, like I was in a tunnel. I was talking backward.&uot;

The other firefighter saw what was happening, and sprayed Felts with his hose.

&uot;When he did that, I started coming out of it,&uot; Felts said. Medics came and took him to Obici Hospital, where he was given two liters of fluid through an IV. The next day, Felts spoke to a doctor about his condition.

&uot;It was a bonified heatstroke,&uot; he said. &uot;He told me that I’d cheated death. If I’d gone much longer, I’d have either died or had some permanent damage.&uot;

With temperatures back near the triple-digits – Suffolk’s heat index has been as high as 114 over the past few days, and stayed over 100 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday – Felts and the rest of his co-workers have been making sure that no one suffers a similar fate.

&uot;We get a lot of our daily work done early in the morning,&uot; said Lt. Jeremy Gould, stationed with Felts at the White Marsh department. The firefighters have a set of chores to do every day, such as groundskeeping and cleaning up the station.

&uot;We’ve been taking care of a lot of heat-related problems with the elderly,&uot; Gould said. &uot;Some don’t have air-conditioning. (Wednesday) morning, a construction worker stopped by, and we got him hydrated and cooled off.&uot;

That’s quite the switch from July 5, when several teams of firefighters spent the day battling flames at the former Smithfield Foods Packing Plant on Virginia Ham Drive near Portsmouth Boulevard.

&uot;We were drinking water and Gatorade the while time,&uot; Gould said. &uot;You’re talking about wearing 60 pounds of gear. Sometimes we have to go from zero to 60 at the drop of a hat, but we look out for each other.&uot;

Oftentimes at such situations, the department will set up a tent at the scene with first aid equipment, ice towels and a water mist-spraying machine.

During training, a nutrition class is held detailing the dangers of both heat and cold. Felts, who says that he gets tired easier since his experience, tells new recruits about his close call.

&uot;If it helps one person, it’s worth it,&uot; he said. &uot;It was scary then, but we joke about it. It was the most scared that I’ve ever been.&uot;