Hydration 101

August 31, 2018

When I first came on the job, a firefighter’s fresh drinking water on the fireground hinged upon whether or not someone remembered to fill the metal canteens that morning. Most judicious engineers would have them arranged neatly in a row, situated in a well-crafted wooden box, stored in the rear compartment of the engine. The metal container, with its wool-clad siding was heavy and not comfortable to carry around on your side. They also absorbed the heat of the day, so by the time you got around to drinking it, it was about the same temperature as what was outside—but we still drank it.

However, something new is on the horizon. Thanks to the Los Angeles Fire Foundation, modern hydration packs have been purchased for members to use in the field. With help from other private resources, 720 packs have been made available, with more on the way. The plan is to eventually equip every member in the field with their own pack.

“A/C Tim Ernst has been instrumental in the project,” states Liz Lin, the LAFD Foundation President. She goes on to say, “The Foundation’s primary goal is the safety and wellness of the men and women of the LAFD. Adequate, accessible hydration is essential in the field. It is a privilege to provide this important tool.”

Recently a burger-eating contest at Farmer Boys and a donation from the Wasserman Foundation have resulted in another $50,000 that will be used to purchase additional packs. The Foundation will continue soliciting funds until every member has one, with a few surplus at S&M.

If you would like to help, donations can be made through the Foundation by designating the funds for hydration backpacks at: www.supportlafd.org

Water, the essential resource
Water is one of the most precious resources on this earth and a fundamental tool used for firefighting. It is also an essential element for the well-being and health of those doing the firefighting. In general, a man’s body should be made up of between 50 and 65 percent water, while the ideal range for a woman is between 45 and 60 percent. So why is this essential resource such a low priority for most of us to consume?

Our profession has a way of getting in our way of a healthier lifestyle. The career of a firefighter is a busy one. Training, fire prevention, station and apparatus maintenance, not to mention responding to daily emergencies – they all consume our time, sometimes distracting us from taking in the proper nutrition and hydration we need to operate at our peak performance levels.

Dehydration, the real enemy
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of fatigue and general malaise on the fireground. This generally occurs when we subject our body to intense heat and physical exertion which, in turn, produces excessive sweating.

Dehydration means your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. Left unchecked, this can lead to major problems on and off an incident. Excessive sweating can also lead to other issues such as a loss of salts and other important minerals, called electrolytes. These compounds are essential for keeping the body functioning properly.

The risks of dehydration only increase in hotter temperatures where the rate of sweating increases. The following are indicators to look for when exposed to such conditions:
• headache
• lethargy
• low urine output
• sunken eyes
• dry or sticky mouth.

It may only take a 2 percent reduction in water within your body for these signs and symptoms to appear.

So how do we prevent this?
The answer is simple–drink more water. The Food and Nutrition Board suggests about 91 ounces of water from both liquid and food sources daily. Most experts recommend consuming between eight to ten cups of water per day. Maintaining this level of hydration may even benefit you in other areas of your health. One University of Missouri-Columbia study showed that drinking about two cups of water increased blood flow to the skin. Although we don’t know if that makes it healthier, people have reported that increasing their daily water intake has made their skin look clearer.

Ditch the soft drink for Mother Nature’s substitute
Did you know that in many states, the highway patrol carries two gallons of Coke in the trunk to remove blood from the highway after a car accident? The active ingredient in Coke is phosphoric acid? It will dissolve a nail in about four days. People who have switched from soda to water have reported feeling less bloated and have even loss some of the unwanted weight associated with the sugar-laden drink.

Firefighting is a physically demanding profession that requires all of us to be at our peak of condition. Thanks to the LA Fire Foundation and the purchase of the new hydration packs, we will be well on our way.

Staying hydrated should be a priority in every first responder’s life. Drinking the recommended amount of water daily will not only keep you fit for duty, it can also make you feel better in your everyday life. It has been shown to decrease fatigue, increase weight loss, flush out toxins, prevent cancer, prevent cramps and sprains, and lastly, even if you choose bottled or filtered water, it’s STILL cheaper than that high sugar and fat-filled latte!

By John Hicks

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