Hot-Hot-HOT! A Lineman's No-Sweat Tips for Keeping Your Cool
With a heat index of more than 100 degrees these days, Josh Hammock of UCEMC's district office in Cookeville suits up for safety in his lifesaving, but uncomfortable, rubber safety gear.
You have to wonder why weather forecasters feel the need to state the obvious in heat like this. They remind us to stay out of the sun, wear light clothing, drink plenty of fluids, and take frequent breaks if we “must be outdoors in this heat.” When hot, humid 'air you can wear' hits you in the face the minute you step outside, it's a no-brainer; run back inside, sit in front of a fan and drink ice water. But if your job requires you to be outdoors when it's 100 plus degrees, you have no choice. You become an expert on staying comfortable and safe because your life depends on it.
Not that it gets any more comfortable with experience. Our UCEMC linemen ride in buckets to get up-up-up to where the heat is unbearable. They’re wearing fire-retardant (FR) protective, long-sleeved clothing with thick rubber gloves and sleeve coverings, and unventilated hard hats. This required personal protective equipment (PPE) causes them to drip with sweat as they work with electricity.
“Our linemen are working in rubber sleeves in this extreme heat. The sweat is pooling in the fingertips of their gloves," says UCEMC General Manager Jimmy Gregory, recalling his days as a lineman. "On a hot August day, the safety gear is a necessary evil. It wasn’t that long ago when the FR gear we wore felt like a burlap sack. Today, the gear is more comfortable, but it’s still unforgiving in the Tennessee heat. Unfortunately, if the fabric is breathable, it isn't fire retardant.”
In many cases, UCEMC linemen can’t choose what time of day they’ll be at the top of that pole. An outage might determine that for them, but whenever there is extreme heat, and complicated energized work is involved, UCEMC makes every effort to allow our crews to work an altered schedule and begin earlier to avoid the most extreme heat during the day. The truck coolers are packed with ice, water, and plenty of low-sodium electrolyte drinks for each crew. They’re advised to stay away from tea, coffee, or any beverage containing caffeine, which causes dehydration. Linemen who aren't working in the primary zone are permitted to wear short-sleeved, cotton T-shirts.
For these guys, staying cool during hot Tennessee days is simply a matter of common sense. Staying safe in this extreme heat comes with recognizing when they’re in the heat danger zone. They realize that when the focus is on the task, and they don't sip water or take a break in the shade, their body might remind them by displaying some unpleasant symptoms:
Heat Cramps – When you’re dehydrated from pouring sweat and not replenishing all that water loss, you’ll experience muscle spasms. Remedy: Move to a shady spot, preferably under a tree. Trees release water into the air. Sitting in the shade of a tree can make the temperature feel 10-15 degrees cooler. Drink cold water to lower the body temperature or a sports drink – preferably a lower sodium variety that contains electrolytes. Apply a cold, wet cloth to the back of your neck and forehead.
Heat Exhaustion – When those heat cramps are accompanied by dizziness, nausea or vomiting, headache, or fainting, you’ve reached the danger zone. Remedy: Remove any protective clothing, i.e., vests, gloves, hats, long sleeves. Rest and allow your body to cool-down; below 100 degrees. Seek emergency medical help if these steps don't relieve your symptoms.
Heatstroke – Emergency medical attention is vital, and symptoms of this potentially fatal condition can mimic any stroke: Victims may be confused or disoriented. They may have slurred speech. They either have hot, dry skin or they're pouring sweat with a body temperature climbing as high as 104 degrees. They might suffer seizures or convulsions. Remedy: Call 911. Move the person to the shade. Apply cold compresses and pour water on the victim's clothing, putting them near a fan if possible. Do not give the heatstroke victim anything to drink as it could cause a choking hazard. Keep the victim calm and relaxed until EMTs arrive.
No-Sweat tips for keeping your cool at home
Even if you're not out in the glaring sun, the risk of overheating is still there – especially for the elderly and our pets.
Moving the air around in your home doesn’t lower the temperature, but it can make your body feel more relaxed when you sit near a fan. Remember that ceiling fans only cool the people in the room – not the room itself. Turn the fan off when you leave to save energy. If you have a heat pump, turn the unit to the FAN setting. The air will circulate throughout the house and help you to feel more refreshed.
If you need more cool-air circulation and you don’t have an air conditioner, close the windows, curtains or blinds on the sunny side of the house and open the windows on the shady side. As the sun moves during the day, follow the shade – closing the bright windows and blinds and opening the now shady windows. Placing window fans in the shadiest window of the home will get a cool breeze blowing through in no time.
Stopping the thermo-games
Mom likes to set the thermostat at 71 in the summer. Dad prefers the setting for Nome, Alaska. It’s a constant battle and one that can cause a bigger ruckus when the resulting higher electric bill arrives. If you have an air conditioner or HVAC, don’t play with the thermostat. Agree on a reasonable, comfortable temperature, set the thermostat, and don’t change it. When the thermostat setting is continuously altered, everything within the house becomes either cooler or warmer than before. This see-saw thermostat game causes the cooling system to operate much longer, and the entire home and contents must acclimate to the new temperature.
The salad days
Eat fresh meals. Tuna or egg salad. Crisp lettuce with chopped veggies. Iceberg lettuce wedges. Fruit and cheese platters. You don't have to fire-up the stove. Yum! We're getting colder – and hungry - just thinking about it.
Chill out and deal
We have no control over the weather here in the Upper Cumberland, but we can adjust the way we live with it. Plan ahead! Slather on sunscreen and schedule work around the coolest part of the day, keeping an eye on the elderly, children, and pets to help them cope with these final, scorching dog days of summer!