Volunteers help rehab Petersburg firefighters during extreme heat

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Fire Support Team Six volunteers in Petersburg is made up of about a dozen volunteers who provide relief to Petersburg Firefighters during extreme heat and cold conditions.

On Tuesday, Fire Support Team Six helped out the department during ladder training, making sure recruits don't suffer from heat related illnesses such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

Though the sun beat down on recruits wearing heavy turnout gear and saturates their lungs, it doesn't slow down these Petersburg Firefighter recruits in their ladder class.

"I mean you fight fire whether it's hot or cold, so you might as well train whether it's hot or cold,” said Jonathan Whitby, Petersburg firefighter recruit.

On a day like Tuesday, with the 10 a.m. dewpoint at 76 for a heat index of 98, the heat so severe that the danger isn't just from a fire.

"Think about the hottest you have every been and multiply it by two," said Petersburg Firefighter Recruit Philip Pugh.

The gear used by the firefighters, particularly the turnout gear, is not breathable, and holds in heat and prevents individuals from sweating, according to retired nurse Cindy Puryear.

Puryear said that the recruits "stand in front of the misting fans, it starts to help cool the body down."

These services are life-saving.

Firefighters like Sgt. Gene Beemer have seen plenty of heat-related illness strike crews while working in extreme conditions.

That’s why Beemer jumped at the chance to provide rehab services as a volunteer with his old department, a service designed to protect firefighters in extreme conditions.

"The cans have ice and water in them, by the movement of the fan through the ice, the air coming into it, we can drop the ambient temperature anywhere from 15 to 20 degrees,” Beemer said.

There are also chairs and benches for relief and cold towels available to put around their head and neck, which will automatically cool them down.

The volunteers show up and set up when needed.

"It makes a huge difference, Support-Team 6 has done well for us, with the cool towels, having us water, fans, everything," Whitby said.