Hot Flash: Preventing Heat-Related Injuries at Camp Lemonnier

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kristen Wilson, Camp Lemonnier's Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Detachment assistant information manager, exerts her maximum effort during a master cross-fit class taking place during red flag conditions June 17, 2013, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Flag conditions are color-coded green, yellow, red and black, and help keep service members aware of heat safety. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Rafael Martie) CJTF-HOA Photo U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Kristen Wilson, Camp Lemonnier's Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Detachment assistant information manager, exerts her maximum effort during a master cross-fit class taking place during red flag conditions June 17, 2013, at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Flag conditions are color-coded green, yellow, red and black, and help keep service members aware of heat safety. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Rafael Martie)
Mohamed Koumaneh Farah, morale, welfare and recreation employee, raises a red flag at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, June 18, 2013. Flag conditions, which are coded green, yellow, red, and black, help keep service members aware of heat safety. Service members and civilian personnel can find flag conditions posted at the gym, 11 Degrees North, and the turf field at Camp Lemonnier. CJTF-HOA Photo Mohamed Koumaneh Farah, morale, welfare and recreation employee, raises a red flag at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, June 18, 2013. Flag conditions, which are coded green, yellow, red, and black, help keep service members aware of heat safety. Service members and civilian personnel can find flag conditions posted at the gym, 11 Degrees North, and the turf field at Camp Lemonnier.

It's no secret personnel assigned to Camp Lemonnier and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa work under extreme heat conditions during July and August, typically the hottest months of the year. Often little understood are the preventative heat-safety measures in place that can be a matter of life or death.

"You have to be safe and avoid heat injuries because these types of injuries can have a long-term effect on your life," said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Alberto Sevillaparra, Camp Lemonnier Expeditionary Medical Facility hospital corpsman. "It is very important to stay hydrated, because dehydration can lead to a heat casualty."

Overall, heat injuries are defined as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Along these lines, heat cramps result from the loss of salts, electrolytes and minerals needed by one's muscles. This happens when the body is exposed to high temperatures and fluids are not replaced adequately, resulting in painful muscle contractions that usually happen to the hamstring.

"You can help relieve heat cramps by staying in a cool environment, drinking water and resting," said Sevillaparra.

Moving on, heat exhaustion is a milder form of heatstroke that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or imbalanced replacement of fluids. Symptoms include cool, moist and clammy skin, dilated pupils, nausea, vomiting and profuse sweating.

Steps to treat heat exhaustion include: moving the individual to a cool, shaded area; applying cold cloths to areas of the body such as head, neck, armpits, and groin; and also loosening or removing articles of clothing to allow air to cool the body.

Finally, heatstroke - the most severe heat injury - happens when the body's sweating mechanism breaks down and it can no longer eliminate excess heat. During heatstroke, the body's core temperature can reach in excess of 102 degrees Fahrenheit, classifying it as a medical emergency. Symptoms include but are not limited to hot or dry skin; uneven pupils; weak, rapid pulse; decreased mental state; unconsciousness; and death.

"Make no mistake, upon noticing these symptoms, it is imperative someone calls emergency medical services (1-911) immediately or takes the victim to the EMF," said Sevillaparra. "Reduce the heat by applying cold water compresses or ice packs throughout the body, fanning vigorously while waiting for emergency medical services or on transport to the EMF."

By and large, camp EMF health professionals aren't the only ones working hard to advocate prevention of heat-related injuries. The camp's safety office staff also endeavors to help people here beat the heat.

From equipment to personnel, camp safety members inspect and monitor daily operations, and during the hottest part of the day, they verify observance and compliance to heat flag conditions.

"During rounds, we ensure appropriate steps are taken when construction is going on under extreme heat conditions by making sure personnel are well-hydrated, mission-ready and abiding by heat flag conditions," said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan Stephenson, from Camp Lemonnier's safety office.

In addition, flag conditions, regulated in hot weather by the Wet-Bulb Globe Temperature Index and color-coded green, yellow, red and black, are posted at the camp gym, 11 Degrees North, and the turf field at Camp Lemonnier.

During green flag conditions, discretion is required in planning exercises for unseasoned personnel in temperatures ranging from 80-84.9 degrees Fahrenheit.

As heat increases, so do flag conditions. Yellow flag indicates temperatures 85 to 87.9 degrees Fahrenheit and signifies strenuous exercise and activity be curtailed for new and un-acclimated personnel with less than three weeks on camp.

Temperatures 88 to 89.9 degrees Fahrenheit forewarn red flag conditions, and mean strenuous exercise should be curtailed for personnel with less than 12 weeks on camp.

The final and most serious heat flag condition, black, takes effect during temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and all physical activities discontinue when outdoors. If mission requirements necessitate outdoor work, a 45-minute break should be taken per hour of light work. Any heavy work should be postponed until flag conditions change.

By knowing and enforcing flag condition rules, everyone on camp can help safety efforts, Stephenson added.

"No matter how avid an exerciser or how committed one is to the mission, no personal fitness goal or daily mission accomplishment here on camp should cost someone their life," said Stephenson. "Black flag conditions need to be taken seriously and be strictly adhered to."

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