Water. It doesn’t just help put out fires. Water is one of the key ingredients needed to keep a fire department happy and healthy, but does the fire service understand the importance of hydration for fire fighters?
Unfortunately heart disease causes nearly half (45%) of line-of-duty deaths in firefighters. Common factors that contribute to cardiac events include family history, high cholesterol, obesity and one we often don’t consider is dehydration. Proper hydration helps ensure all bodily functions work properly to allow fire fighters to do their job.
Performance is greatly compromised when someone is dehydrated, and this decrease has been noticed even in cases of mild dehydration. Dehydration contributes to a drop in alertness, concentration and fatigue. Firefighters face a potentially deadly combination of stress, heat and high body temperature, and dehydration. Repeatedly placing such stresses upon an individual can take its toll. In stressful situations, such as a fire, the body responds with a number of physiological changes. More adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, muscles tense, breathing quickens, and heart rate and blood pressure rise. However, fit individuals who are hydrated tend to take these physical responses in stride and with less wear and tear to the body.
Considering that water makes up 66% to 70% of the human body, it is essential to constantly drink water. For optimal performance you must be hydrated – and that’s hard to do when you are working with the extreme temperature of a fire. Hydration must start before you jump on the rig. To stop dehydration before it starts prior to the alarm for a service call, you must limit the use of stimulants, such as caffeine, avoid carbonated beverages, maintain physical fitness and stay adequately hydrated throughout a shift. Drink plenty of water at regular intervals, and aim to replace fluids at the same rate that they’re lost.
The World Health Organization recommends humans consume at least 64 ounces of water per day. Every crew is only as strong as their weakest member. As part of a team, a dehydrated firefighter is not just endangering his own health – he or she is endangering their whole crew. For a firefighter that endures rigorous conditions, hydration is essential.