Yakima first responders anticipate heat-related emergency calls

Yakima Ambulance
Credit: Emily Goodell, KAPP-KVEW

YAKIMA, Wash. — As the weather gets hotter, Yakima first responders are anticipating a rush of heat-related emergency calls, including drownings, heat exhaustion and vehicle fires.

Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell said when people start feeling the heat of summer, they often take to swimming in nearby rivers to cool off and underestimate the danger to them and their loved ones.

However, Udell said the river is too cold, too fast and too unpredictable for it to be 100% safe for anyone, even grown adults with life jackets and strong swimming skills.

“I have had a couple of notable dangerous incidents in rivers and they scared the heck out of me,” Udell said. “The problem is, when you get in a situation like that, I guarantee you help is a long ways away.”

First responders said anyone who wants to get themselves or their kids out in the water should think about going to a public pool with a lifeguard or setting up their own small pool at home.

Despite both options being safer, West Valley Fire Chief Nathan Craig said parents need to be vigilant any time their child is in or around water, regardless of how much water there is or if it’s just in their own backyard.

“A toddler could fall in, hit their head and drown in a pool that just has a few inches of water in it,” Craig said. “You can’t be on your phone, scrolling through the internet. You have to be watching the kids the entire time they’re in the water.”

First responders also see numerous calls each summer for vehicle fires caused by cars overheating. Craig said sometimes the cars give out after they’ve been parked in a garage and end up causing a house fire.

“If you think there’s any issue with your vehicle, keep it parked away from your home until it cools off and then get it inspected by a mechanic,” Craig

Craig said if the driver is still in the car and notices the temperature gauge start to move upward, a strange smell or smoke leaking from under the hood, they should stop the car and pay attention to where they’re parking.

“Don’t park right next to a big field of sagebrush because that leads to a big brush fire,” Craig said. “Sometimes it’s just better to leave it in the middle of the road.”

Cars can also be dangerous for any children or pets left inside while the weather is hot, even if it’s only for a short period of time.

“If you’re at a grocery store or whatever on a hot a day and you see a kid or even a pet in a car, even if the window is cracked that is an emergency: call 911 and get assistance,” Craig said. “If the child appears to be unresponsive, break the window and get them out.”

Children and older adults are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which are some of the most common calls first responders go to over the summer.

“With heat exhaustion, you’re sweating a lot, you might be dizzy, you might be nauseated,” said David Lynde, AMR Yakima operations manager.

First responders said depending on the severity of the heat exhaustion, a person might be able to cool down by moving somewhere with air conditioning, taking a cold shower or putting ice packs in the armpit or groin.

“Whereas with heatstroke … you’re not sweating anymore. You have a headache,” Lynde said. “You might still be nauseous, but your core body temperatures up 103 degrees or more.”

Lynde said if that happens, someone should call 911 immediately and be taken to the hospital.

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