Heat injuries on rise, prevention is key

20 Jul 2006 | Cpl. Brian A. Tuthill

As the summer heat continues to keep the Combat Center at peak temperatures, everyone aboard the base needs to ensure they are protecting themselves to prevent a possibly fatal situation.

With higher temperatures and changes in relative humidity in summer months, the easier it is for heat stress injuries to occur.  Although methods of prevention are simple, the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital emergency room has already seen more than 25 heat injury patients since May, said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Clark, senior ER nurse.

There are a lot of factors which might make some people more or less susceptible to the heat such as body type, altitude, temperature, humidity, rigorous physical training and lack of education, said Clark.


“Heat injuries are very serious, especially being out here in Twentynine Palms where it’s very hot with little shade,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Clifford L. Salvejo, a hospital corpsman with the physical therapy department of the hospital.  “I saw a few cases when I was green side [Fleet Marine Force] stationed at Camp Pendleton, but there is a much higher risk here at this base.

“A mild heat injury such as dehydration and heat cramps could easily lead to other, more serious conditions like heat exhaustion” he continued.  “Marines usually have gear on, and that can add a lot to the problem.  From there, it’s heat stroke and that’s very dangerous because you could die or suffer brain damage.”

One danger people face when afflicted by heat injuries is their resistance is lowered each time, and those in that situation need to be extremely careful, Salvejo said.

Every Marine or service member has heard it countless times from the first days of their careers: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. 

Perhaps the most important safety precaution anyone can take when outside in hot environments or exercising is to drink plenty of water well before they begin.  Water not only cools the body and helps keep vital systems operating, but is the basis of sweat, which is the body’s natural defense to heat.

“Hydration is an excellent way to help prevent these injures, but you have to start drinking water the day before because it needs time to get into your system,” said Salvejo, who is also his department safety officer.  “Pounding water until you’re sick the morning of doesn’t do you much good out here.

“You probably won’t know you’re dehydrated until you already are,” he warned.
Salvejo also suggests wearing loose fitting clothes and drinking room temperature water rather than ice cold water when in the heat or exercising. The colder water could affect performance as your body tries to maintain a steady temperature.

“Education on heat stress at the individual level and also at the small unit leadership levels would help a lot I think,” said Clark.  “Those leaders need to know how far they can push their troops and know what the dangers are.”

Also on the rise in the desert area are cases of skin cancer, so people should try to wear sun block over SPF 30, not tanning lotion, said Salvejo.

Beat the heat

Those who are planning an afternoon workout session with a run in the hills of the Combat Center should think again, said Salvejo.  The afternoon is when temperatures peak, so running in the morning or in the evening with an hour in the gym at lunch is probably a better choice.  Also, wearing moisture-wicking fabrics will help disperse sweat over a broader region and help you stay cool.

The Combat Center’s heat flag warning system, located at designated areas around base, relate potentially dangerous heat conditions with colored flags, and people can plan their workouts and training around them.  When there is a black flag flying, no one should be exercising outside at all because the risk of heat injuries is so high, said Solvejo.

Those planning to be in the sun a long time should consider an umbrella or canopy, wear a hat and sip water all day to avoid dangers.  And don’t leave pets locked in vehicles, where temperatures can skyrocket more than 150 degrees in only minutes, according the hospital.

Aboard the Combat Center in summer when playgrounds pose a possible burn hazard to children, finding alternatives for family fun is also a must.

Places on base such as the Family Pool, movie theater and Community Center or a short road trip to nearby water parks or attractions can get you out of the heat and still have fun.

But to stay safe this summer, be sure to cover up, take plenty of water and try to stay in the shade as much as possible.
Headquarters Marine Corps