The Linemen's No-Sweat Tips for Keeping Cool
You have to wonder why weather forecasters need to state the obvious. 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 you have no choice if your job requires you to be outdoors when it's 100 degrees. You become an expert on staying comfortable and safe because your life depends on it. Our forecaster friends warn us to pay attention to our health while concentrating on our outdoor work.
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 wear fire-retardant (FR) protective, long-sleeved clothing, thick rubber gloves, 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, and the sweat is pooling in the fingertips of their gloves," says UCEMC District Manager Tommy Pitman, recalling his days as a lineman. "With the hot weather expected this week, the safety gear is a necessary evil. It wasn't that long ago when the FR gear we wore was not meant for comfort. Today, the gear is more comfortable but unforgiving in the Tennessee heat."
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 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 avoid tea, coffee, or any drink containing caffeine, which causes dehydration. Linemen not 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 means recognizing when they're in the heat danger zone. When the focus is on the task, and you ignore sipping on water or taking a break in the shade, your body might remind you 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, and 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. Please 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 your home doesn't lower the temperature, but it can make your body feel more relaxed when sitting 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 feel refreshed.
If you need more cool-air circulation and 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 sunny 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, and dad prefers the setting of Nome, Alaska. A constant battle can cause an enormous stir when the resulting higher electric bill arrives. Don't play with the thermostat if you have an air conditioner or HVAC. 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 cooler or warmer. 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 cooler – 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 scorching days ahead!
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