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5 Heat Injury Prevention Tips for EMTs

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The summer months mark a time of increased run volume in most EMS systems as vacationers indulge in recreation and exertion not normally pursued during the rest of the year. The warmer weather increases our exposure to heat-related injuries not only in our patients but also in ourselves as workloads increase under higher temperatures and humidity. The adage, “If you aren’t solving the problem, you’re part of it,” especially applies in the summer.

Here are some Everyday EMS Tips from guest author Jim Isbell. Jim is a flight paramedic and EMS educator. Follow these tips for maintaining optimal health during hot weather and reducing your chances of becoming a heat casualty.


  • Drink water. Water is the best single preventative to heat injury we as providers can use in the course of our work shifts. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink water. Also, avoid caffeinated beverages as the caffeine has a diuretic effect and will add to your chances of suffering a heat injury. “Sports” drinks are of limited usefulness in preventing heat injuries as the sugar content is fairly significant and some contain caffeine. Use sports drinks sparingly.
  • Take a break. It’s hard to schedule down time in EMS, but if you can catch a short rest between calls take advantage of the time to cool down.
  • Eat well. Meals are important in reducing heat stress. Try to avoid high-fat and carbohydrate-laden foods so they digest more easily. The water in fruits and vegetables also help improve your fluid intake. Eating smaller meals also will help reduce the chance of heat cramps and indigestion when exerting on calls.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical conditioning is one of the best ways to reduce your chances of suffering a heat injury.
  • Dress for conditions. Depending on your work regulations, you may find some advantage in wearing synthetic undergarments beneath your work uniform to help reduce heat and wick away moisture. If you can’t wear synthetic, look for lightweight wool or silk undergarments that promote wicking and breathability.

Summer weather creates some unique challenges to EMS providers both in their patients and themselves. Take the time to practice a little preventative medicine on yourself and reduce the chances of needing treatment for a personal heat injury.

Jim Isbell is Director of Information Services for NorthStar EMS, Tuscaloosa, AL and a Flight Paramedic with Alabama Life Saver (Omniflight) and an associate EMS educator with the Alabama Fire College. A Paramedic since 1992, Jim has over 19 years’ experience in EMS ranging from field medic, educator, consultant and administration and is married with two children. Jim holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration and is active in community and church work with an emphasis on foreign medical missions.

An infrequent blogger and avid Twitterer, Jim can be found at http://pertinentfindings.blogspot.com and on Twitter @jisbellemtp. NorthStar’s website is http://www.northstar-ems.com. Jim welcomes email comments.