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Summer Safety Series


Summer Safety Series

Summer is a great time of year to be outdoors. The kids are out of school with lots of free time to explore – whether it’s hiking, spending a day at the park, swimming or doing some other type of athletic activity. However, there are certain things you should always keep in mind to make the most out of your fun in the sun and to ensure you and your loved ones stay safe.

Welcome to UNM Health’s Summer Safety Series. As you enjoy the summer weather, be sure to stay cool. Our third entry in UNM Health’s Summer Safety Series reminds you to stay out of arroyos and ditches throughout the metro area because flash flooding is always a danger.

Don't Get Swept Away

Monsoon season can bring heavy rains to the metro’s ditches, arroyos

By Terry Kelly

It’s official – monsoon season, which lasts June 15 to Sept. 30, is here. Though these storms can bring relief from oppressively hot days, the heavy rains can also lead to flash flooding, especially in ditches and arroyos.

Did You Know?

Flash floods can strike very quickly. Though it might be sunny and dry in Albuquerque, it can be raining in the Sandia Mountains. The water can then come sweeping down the arroyos in the city..

The No. 1 thing to do is to stay out high-danger areas, such as arroyos and ditches, since they are the first to flood, says Melissa Romero, public information officer for the Albuquerque Fire Department.

“Please educate your children to stay out of those places,” she says. “They like to play and skateboard in them, but we have plenty of beautiful parks all over the city where they can do that.”

When to Call 911

According to Romero, water can flow as quickly as 30 mph through the arroyos, which is easily strong enough to knock a grown man down and sweep him away. Even just a little bit of water can be dangerous.

“If water is only one foot deep, it can displace a 1,500-pound vehicle,” Romero says. “So people should never drive through flooded areas. You can get stuck or the water can start carrying your vehicle.”

If you ever find yourself in this situation, Romero says that you should exit your car only if it is safe to do so. If you can get out and get to a higher elevation safely, then you should. However, if the water is flowing too quickly or if your vehicle is being carried, then you should call 911.

The AFD has 11 stations that are trained in swift-water rescue spread throughout the flood channel in the city.

“They have designated areas they go to if a call comes in that someone is in danger,” Romero says.

City arroyos are equipped with poles that firefighters can use to attach a rope and safety bag to in an effort to rescue anyone caught in a flooded arroyo.

Safety Tips

If you ever find yourself caught in flowing water, Romero recommends the following:

  • Float on your back and point your feet downward.
  • Find something sturdy and strong that you can grab onto, such as a light pole.
  • If you cannot grab hold of anything, continue to float on your back until the water slows, or you are rescued.

If you ever see someone in danger in the water, DO NOT attempt a rescue yourself. Immediately call 911 and tell them your location and situation.

“It can be difficult enough to save one person,” says Romero. “We don’t want to have to try and save two.”

The second installment in our Summer Safety Series focused on avoiding heat-related illnesses.

Cool Off

Avoid heat-related illnesses by taking it easy outdoors and drinking plenty of cool liquids.

By Terry Kelly

It has been scorching hot in New Mexico lately. Temperatures have surpassed 100 degrees all over the state for multiple days in a row.

Tips For Staying Cool

Here are some tips on how to stay cool and prevent heat illnesses from occurring:

  • Stay hydrated and bring plenty of cool liquids (water is best) whenever you will be spending an extended period outdoors.
  • Limit the time you spend outside, especially if you are being active.
  • Wear light clothing.
  • Be smart. If you feel yourself getting overheated, rest in a shady spot. Take plenty of breaks and don’t exert yourself as much as you normally would.
  • Drew Harrell, MD, recommends visiting the Center for Disease Control website for more information.

However, if you are forced to be outdoors, Robert Rimorin, the athletic trainer for the UNM baseball team, says staying hydrated and drinking plenty of cool fluids can help you to avoid the two main types of heat-related illnesses, which are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These illnesses occur as the result of a combination of dehydration and the body overheating.

Heat exhaustion symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • An increased body temperature of about 101 degrees

“The first way people can prevent heat exhaustion is to stay hydrated,” Rimorin says. “It will help keep you, your tissues and your organs cool.”

It’s still possible for you to get heat exhaustion despite drinking fluids, Rimorin adds, because your body can still overheat.

Harrell says you need to pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you.

“Heat exhaustion is your body’s way of saying, ‘Hey, take a break. Get some place cool. Get out of the heat. Take off your extra clothes and rest to let your body cool down and get your heart rate back to normal.’ If you pay attention to those symptoms, you normally don’t progress and you fix your heat exhaustion,” Harrell says.

Cramps are an early sign that you might be pushing yourself too hard and to reign in your physical activity.

“You’re expending more electrolytes than you are taking in,” Rimorin explains. “Most people, although not everyone, will get cramps before progressing to (heat exhaustion or heat stroke). People suffering from heat exhaustion are still functioning, but their body is definitely overheated and we need to get them into a shady area and cool them down.”

If left untreated, heat exhaustion can escalate to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency and needs immediate care. A person can suffer from heat stroke if the body’s temperature doesn’t cool sufficiently. Heat stroke can even strike people who are not active, especially in the very young and elderly.

“If you don’t pay attention to the warning signs, or if you try to treat it and you’re still not better after an hour, then it is a medical emergency because your body is losing its ability to regulate its own temperature,” says Harrell.

“People will progress from being a little confused, weak with some muscle cramps and a fast heart rate to being profoundly confused – including and up to being unconscious and maybe even seizing – and losing their ability to sweat because the body has burned through its ability to regulate its temperature. Because of this, their temperature will go up very quickly and very high. We’re talking 103 (degrees) to upwards of 106 or 107.”

People suffering from heat stroke might:

“The important visual reminder of how important heat stroke is how you are cooking yourself from the inside at that point,” Harrell says. “Once your temperature gets above 103, or 106, 107, then your body’s tissues, cells and muscles actually start to cook and break down just like if you put a roast in the oven. The single most important thing about someone with heat stroke is they need to be out of the heat and cool as fast as you can make them.”

Someone suffering from heat stroke needs:

  • Emergency medical help. Call 911 IMMEDIATELY. “You need to call 911 because this is like a (heart attack). It is a true medical emergency,” says Harrell.
  • A shady area or cool building. “If you can’t get them into air conditioning, get them into shade and out of the direct sun while you wait for the paramedics to arrive,” Harrell says.
  • Cooling by any means necessary. Good methods of cooling include:
    • Dousing them with water from a fountain, garden hose, etc. “Water is best. It doesn’t even have to be cold water, although that is preferable,” he says.
    • Placing ice packs around the neck, armpit and groin where large blood vessels are close to the skin, which will help the body cool faster.
    • An ice bath or a very cold shower or bath.

The first installment in our Summer Safety Series focused on a potentially quick-striking danger: lightning.

Take Cover

Remember to play it safe when lightning strikes

 By Terry Kelly

The first step in keeping safe during potential thunderstorms is to be prepared.

Did You Know?

The UNM athletic department has a Thor Guard lightning detection system to help keep its student-athletes and staff safe. The system detects electromagnetic disturbances in the atmosphere and can predict when lightning is likely to strike in its area.

“When lightning is nearby, always try to get ahead of it,” says Robert Rimorin, athletic trainer for the UNM baseball who monitors weather conditions to keep students and staff safe. “We look at the incoming radar to get an idea of what we might be dealing with. Green means light rain, yellow is heavier, and red and pink is really heavy rain. Lightning will usually come in those areas that are yellow and red, although it can really happen anywhere.”

Though it’s rare that the UNM Health System’s Burn Center has treated victims of a lightning strike, medical professionals are ready to step in and provide the best possible care for the patient.

“If we were to get a lightning injury, we would treat it like an electric burn,” says Eugene C. Wu, MD, FACS and director of the Burn Center. “(We would) monitor for mental status changes indicative of brain injury and cardiac monitoring to monitor for arrhythmias due to the electrical insult. Although the entry and exit wounds for lightning injuries may be small, there could be extensive tissue damage inside such as muscle necrosis and damage.”

 Finding shelter

When lightning is in your area, a good rule to follow is the flash-to-bang method. Since light travels much faster than sound, every five seconds between a flash of lightning and the ensuing thunder equals one mile. If it’s ever under 30 seconds (six miles) then you should immediately seek shelter.

“I always go a step further and practice under 35 seconds,” Rimorin says, “because if lightning is that close, then it can strike anywhere within that seven-mile radius. Sometimes it can be challenging to count because there are multiple strikes in the area, so it’s not foolproof, but it’s something you can use in a pinch.”

 Examples of good shelter include:

  • A grounded building with plumbing and/or electricity.
  • An enclosed, vehicle with a metal exterior and the windows rolled up. (Be sure not to touch any metal while in your car just in case it is struck.)
    • NOTE: A motorcycle is NOT a safe place during a thunderstorm. According to the NOAA, the last three people to die in New Mexico from lightning strikes were riding motorcycles at the time.

Safety tips

If you’re indoors, stay away from windows, don’t touch anything electrical that is plugged in, and avoid plumbing. If lightning strikes the building you’re in, it can travel through any of those objects.

If you’re far from a suitable shelter and stuck in the elements, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of getting hit:

  • Minimize risk by moving to a lower elevation immediately. Avoid large open spaces and isolated objects such as trees, and get away from unprotected vehicles and metal structures.
  • Get out of water (streams/rivers, lakes, swimming pools, etc.).
  • If you’re in a group, spread out so there are 50-100 feet between people to reduce risk of multiple people being injured with one strike.
  • If you’re hiking with a backpack that has metal on it, take it off and keep it 100 feet away from your shelter.

 Use your CPR skills

Unfortunately, sometimes you can take all the necessary precautions and disaster can still strike. If someone is hit by lightning, they do not retain any electrical charge so it is possible for you to treat them right away.

“First you need to make sure the scene is safe enough for you to go assist them,” says Rimorin. “If you can, call 911 right away. Then check their airway to see if they’re breathing and their pulse to see if their heart is beating. If they’re not breathing or you don’t detect a pulse, go into basic CPR skills to try and keep them alive until help arrives.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), approximately 310 people are struck by lightning each year in the United States. However, only about 10 percent of those strikes are fatal. So here are some more tips on what to do if someone is struck by lightning:

  • Check for and treat burns, especially around metal objects the person might’ve been wearing (such as watches, necklaces, etc.)
  • Keep the injured person warm and calm to prevent shock from setting in.

Time lightning strikes

Finally, remember that just because you think a storm has passed doesn’t mean it’s safe to go back outside. Wait at least 30 minutes after you last hear thunder to resume any activity outdoors.

“Even if the weather is clear outside, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear,” Rimorin says. “After we hear thunder, we set a timer for 30 minutes. If at any time during those 30 minutes there is another lightning strike, we re-set the timer. Once we go 30 minutes with no lightning and thunder, then we deem it is safe enough to leave our shelter and go back outside.”

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