After 30 years of working in construction, Bryant Coolidge said he's used to working in the heat.
Coolidge, a superintendent for McKnight Construction overseeing the construction of Evans Middle School, said he knows the signs of heat-related illnesses to watch for in his 113 employees on the site.
"That (heat-related illness) usually happens to people just starting the business," Coolidge said. "Once you do this for a long time, you know pretty much what's up and up. You know when you are getting too hot."
People working and playing outside this summer need to be aware that heat can kill. According to the National Weather Service, heat-related illnesses kill an average of 235 people a year nationwide, far outweighing the 10-year average of 57 deaths a year from tornadoes, 84 from floods and 21 caused by hurricanes.
The weather service has predicted temperatures between 90 and 94 degrees for today through Saturday, with a relative humidity as high as 100 percent some days.
Dan Cockrell, the owner of AU Construction in Columbia, was working with his crew Friday replacing damaged fiber-optic cable on the site of the new Lowe's Home Improvement store on Evans to Locks Road. They get to work between 6:30 and 7 a.m. to try to beat the heat and keep coolers full of cold water for his crew members.
But a few simple rules keep him working in the heat.
"A lot of water and don't eat too much," Cockrell said about the measures he takes. He goes for a heavy breakfast and usually skips lunch. "You don't want to get sick."
Heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke are more likely in elderly people, young children and those who are sick or overweight.
"Also, if the average healthy person is performing strenuous activities in the heat, they can experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke if they don't take very frequent cooling breaks and drink lots of water," said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's emergency services director.
Under normal circumstances, the body's internal thermostat produces perspiration that evaporates and cools the body, but during extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain body temperature.
Without fluids, the body has no way to control its temperature.
Bruce Lane, Augusta Christian School's athletic director, agrees that fluids are the key to surviving summer heat. In fact, the first- through eight-graders at the school this week for football camp will be hitting the water bottle every 10 to 15 minutes, Lane said.
"You wouldn't want to run you car without water in the radiator and you wouldn't want to run yourself without fluids," Lane said. Many fall football practices are done without full pads to keep players cooler, he said.
After more than two decades of coaching, Lane knows exactly what symptoms of heat-related illnesses to look for and how to combat the heat pro-actively. Student athletes will sometimes push their bodies, so Lane is careful to give very frequent breaks and watch out for the players losing coordination and focus, headaches, fatigue and those who have stopped sweating.
Additional signs of heat-related illness include nausea, dizziness, flushed or pale skin and heavy sweating, according to The American Red Cross.
To stay cool, the Red Cross suggests dressing for heat in light-weight, light-colored clothing, drinking lots of water or juice, eating small meals and eating more often and staying indoors when possible.
Lane said he provides an Internet link to his players about the importance of fluid intake in the heat.
"The big thing I see more of now is kids acclimating themselves to the heat," Lane said, adding that players work out all summer and try to spend time outdoors so football camp in the fall won't be so difficult.
If someone does show signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke, the Red Cross recommends moving him into a cool place, giving him cool water to drink and ice packs or cool wet cloths for the skin.
Like Lane, Coolidge agrees that acclimating is important, but also drinking lots of water and avoiding caffeine will make the heat more bearable.
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