Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate....!

By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press Writer
BRUSETT (AP) - It was barely noon but already sweltering as
firefighter Jason Chevoya monitored tiny licks of flame from a
backburn just across the nearby gravel road.
Only his dirt-caked face was exposed. On his back, he carried a
heavy pack with such things as tool parts, drinking water and food.
Chevoya, a 23-year-old veteran of five fire seasons, wasn't
complaining.
"It does get hot," the Sierra Hot Shots member said Wednesday,
adjusting his helmet with a gloved hand and leaning on a chainsaw.
"After a while, you get used to it, though."
Rising temperatures in east-central Montana have raised concerns
among fire officials about the potential for dehydration, even heat
stroke, among firefighters working in 100-degree temperatures to
contain large blazes generating even more heat.
Firefighters hear the warnings every day at base camp from nurse
Gail Huber, who also reminds them to drink plenty of water and
sports drinks. She encourages them to use their rest periods to
help avoid the heat-related health concerns.
"We get a lot of complaints about headaches, dry mouth," she
said from the medical tent at base camp. "Because of the outside
temperature, the body temperature will raise. There's the
additional temperature from the fire. And even if the fire is not
right there, you have the black ash."
Since arriving at camp Sunday, Huber said she's seen at least
three cases of "borderline" dehydration requiring treatment. On
average, there are between 90 to 100 cases a day at the first-aid
tent for various ailments, including blisters and insect bites.
She said four emergency medical technicians are on the firelines
to assess or treat firefighters, if necessary. Fire managers also
keep close watch on their crews.
Ralph Firemoon Sr. told his Fort Peck 9 crew, which was helping
with a backfire Wednesday, to spread out for lunch, in the shade if
possible.
"It's one of the hottest years on the line for me," he said,
adding that his rookie year was 1982. "It's supposed to be 106
today."
Firefighter Jason Brown said the heat makes the task more
difficult. "But we have a job to do," Brown said. And he admits
it would take more than heat to douse his enthusiasm for fighting
fires.
Ray Brown Sr., who wears a green bandanna under his helmet like
his brother, said he has adapted to working in hot weather, while
being "right next to the heater." He gets his fill of water -
even if it's "practically boiling" - and looks forward to a meal
each night and shower back at camp.
Firefighter Michael Vandall of Fort Peck, who is on his first
fire, wore a muscle T-shirt at camp Wednesday morning as he waited
for his assignment. Even if the heat saps some of his energy, he
said, the payoff keeps him going.
"It's all about the money," he said, smiling.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)