Summer is Here: Be Aware of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

With summer approaching, it is important to be aware of the hazards of heat and sun exposure as many are spending more time outdoors. Law enforcement personnel may be at an increased risk. Many officers work long shifts outdoors in their uniforms and body armor or may be required to take part in outdoor physical training for extended periods of time. When left untreated, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can quickly become be life-threatening. Officers should be informed about the signs and symptoms associated with these conditions, not only for members of the community but for fellow officers and themselves.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first sign of heat exhaustion is typically cramping. Heat stroke may occur if body temperature does not cool down after suffering from heat exhaustion. Heat stroke can also severely damage organs and could potentially lead to death if untreated. The common symptoms associated with heat exhaustion and heat stroke are:

Heat Exhaustion: Excessive sweating; feeling weak; cold, clammy skin; fast pulse; nausea and vomiting; and fainting.

Heat Stroke: Body temperatures above 103 degrees; hot, red skin; fast pulse; and unconsciousness.

Knowing the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke could potentially save your own life or the life of a colleague or a member of the community. If you or see someone suffering from the above symptoms, you should:

Heat Exhaustion: Move somewhere cooler and out of the sun; lie down; apply a wet cloth to as much of the body as possible; and drink fluids.

Heat Stroke: Call 911; move to a cooler place; apply wet cloth on the body; and do NOT drink water.

Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke should be treated as medical emergencies. Fortunately though, there are easy, proactive steps that can be taken to prevent either from occurring:

  • If possible, wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
  • Wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn. A sunburn makes it more difficult to regulate body temperature.
  • Drink plenty of fluids but avoid alcoholic beverages.
  • Avoid hot spots such as a car that has been sitting in the heat and sunlight.
  • Seek cool locations. Being in an air-conditioned location for a few hours is one of the best ways to preventing heat exhaustion or stroke.

It is the IACP’s position that no injury to or death of a law enforcement professional is acceptable, and the IACP Center for Officer Safety and Wellness strives to improve awareness on all aspects of officer safety. To learn more and to share best practices pertaining to officer safety and wellness please visit http://www.iacp.org/CenterforOfficerSafetyandWellness or contact the Center staff at officersafety@theiacp.org.

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