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Putting a Firefighters’ Dehydration Risk in Perspective

Of all the occupational hazards faced by firefighters, dehydration is one of the most common, and it can be life-threatening in extreme cases.

Here’s why: The radiant heat of the fire, extreme physical exertion, heavy clothing and heightened internal body temperature increase sweat rate – which the body uses to cool itself – and this can quickly deplete the body’s water reserves.

In summer, the dehydration risk faced by firefighters is even more pronounced, (although it’s a year-round concern). For instance, the higher temperatures outdoors contribute to heightened internal body temperatures. Plus, fire risk is always greater in hot summer months (This summer, most of the West is facing an “above normal” fire risk).

Why Is Dehydration Risk More Intense for Firefighters?

To put firefighters’ dehydration risk in perspective, it’s best to compare their sweat rates with athletes. Typical athletic activity leads to an 8-16 oz. loss of water per hour, whereas, firefighters “should anticipate losing 50-70 oz. of sweat in 30-45 minutes,” according to a study.

Put another way, firefighters can loss water five times faster than athletes in extreme conditions, and this rapid loss of fluids is the main cause of dehydration. A variety of factors increase the risk, including:

  • Extreme outside temperatures and high radiant heat
  • Types of heavy, non-breathable clothing
  • Lack of proper pre-hydration (One study found that a “high percentage” of firefighters arrived to a training exercise “significantly or severely dehydrated.”)

How Dehydration Can Affect Firefighters

Performance is greatly compromised when someone is dehydrated, and this decrease has been noticed even in cases of mild dehydration. Studies have shown dehydration contributes to a drop in alertness, concentration and fatigue.

Plus, dehydration and resulting heat exhaustion are contributing factors to sudden cardiac arrest, which accounts for 45% of all firefighting fatalities. This happens because when the body’s fluid reserves are depleted, the heart beats faster to try and cool itself, and therefore, the increased risk.

The Benefits of ORS for Firefighters

Oral rehydration solutions like DripDrop ORS provide fluids and electrolytes quickly when the body is under stress. They help rehydration, but also replace electrolytes that are lost through sweat. Plus, the electrolyte-glucose formula in DripDrop ORS and other ORS are designed to speed up absorption of water into the body and increase fluid retention.

Plus, DripDrop ORS tastes great and it’s extremely portable. Here’s how Donna Spirlin of the San Francisco Fire Department describes DripDrop’s ease-of-use in her day-to-day duties:

“I use DripDrop after working at a fire, after initial fire attack and during overhaul. It rehydrates me quickly and I can keep working.”

“You never know when the alarm is going to go off, sometimes it is after I have just worked out in the firehouse and I haven’t had time to eat. So I keep a water bottle with DripDrop on the rig, so I can take a few swigs before having to go to work.”

Image via Flickr.