Southwest heat wave: Phoenix uses ice immersion to treat heat stroke victims

PHOENIX (AP) – The first heatwave of the season The Southwest is already in the grip of triple-digit temperatures as firefighters in Phoenix – America’s hottest big city – employ new tactics in hopes of saving more lives in a county that has seen 645 heat-related deaths last year.

Starting this season, Phoenix firefighters are plunging heatstroke victims into ice on their way to area hospitals. The medical technique, known as cold water immersion, is familiar to marathon runners and military personnel and was also recently adopted by Phoenix hospitals as a gold standard protocol, Fire Capt. » said John Prato.

Emergency crews may use the technique sooner than expected as extreme heat arrived earlier than usual in much of the region. The mercury reached 108 F (42.2 C) on Wednesday in Phoenix and Las Vegas, and records exceeding 110 F (43.3 C) are forecast in both cities on Thursday.

Prato demonstrated the potentially life-saving method earlier this week outside the emergency department at Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix, packing ice cubes in a waterproof blue bag around a medical mannequin of a patient. He said this technique could significantly reduce body temperature within minutes.

“Last week we had a critical patient that we were able to bring back before we walked through the emergency room doors,” Prato said. “That’s our goal: to improve patient survival.”

Heatstroke treatment has made ice and human-sized immersion bags standard equipment on all Phoenix Fire Department emergency vehicles. This is part of the measures the city has adopted this year as temperatures and their human toll are increasingly high. Phoenix also keeps two for the first time cooling stations open at night this season.

“There is a very high pressure system over the southwest that is bringing the first heatwave of summer to the region,” said Sean Benedict, senior meteorologist for the region. weather service based in Phoenix. He added that in addition to Arizona, extreme heat would ignite areas of Eastern California, Northern California, Nevada and even parts of South Texas over the coming days.

Using its Sliding Heat Hazard Scale to measure potentially dangerous heat over a 24-hour period, the National Weather Service in Las Vegas “extreme” heat predicted in parts of southern Nevada starting Wednesday through the weekend.

“Extreme” is the most dangerous heat level on the scale, and so rare that it only occurs a few times a year, the weather service said. He warned of little to no relief from daytime heat overnight, with low temperatures in the Las Vegas area expected to reach 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

Excessive heat warnings were in effect through Friday evening for parts of southeastern California, southern Nevada and Arizona. THE unseasonably warm weather is expected to spread northward and make its way into parts of the Pacific Northwest by the weekend.

On Wednesday in California, Bishop’s high of 102 F (38.8 C) broke the previous record of 101 F (38.3 C) set in 2021. It peaked at 106 F (41.1 C) in Needles and 118 F (47.7 C) in Death. Valley National Park, where Thursday’s high of 121 F (49.4 C) would tie the mark last matched in 1996.

Other highs in Arizona on Wednesday included 111 F (43.8 C) in Kingman and Bullhead City. It was 100 F (37.7 C) in Roswell, New Mexico, and 97 F (36.1 C) in Reno, Nevada, where the normal high for that date is 81 F (27.2 C). ).

A warning was issued for most of Thursday and Friday for parts of Grand Canyon National Park for areas below 4,000 feet (1,220 meters), including Phantom Ranch and Havasupai Gardens, where forecast temperatures ranged from 105 F (40.5 C) to 111 F (43.8 C).

In southern New Mexico, temperatures are expected to reach triple digits, prompting the city of Las Cruces to activate its cooling centers on Wednesday to provide residents with temporary shelter from the scorching heat. A heat advisory for the region will be in effect until Thursday.

Albuquerque’s mayor announced this year’s “Operation Cooldown” Wednesday, which includes plans for cooling centers and the use of sprinklers in city parks to keep children cool.

The City Council of Tucson, Arizona’s second-largest city, passed a heat protection ordinance this week to ensure city workers have access to cool water, shade and additional breaks at their workplace. The action comes after Pima County, where Tucson is located, recorded 176 heat-related deaths last year and 51 more such deaths in the five additional rural counties managed by the medical examiner.

Maricopa County officials were stunned earlier this year when final numbers showed 645 heat-related deaths in Arizona’s largest county, a majority of them in Phoenix. The most brutal period was a heat wave with 31 consecutive days of temperatures of 110 F (43.3 C) or higher, which claimed the lives of more than 400 people.

“We have seen a sharp increase over the past three years in cases of serious heat-related illnesses,” said Dr. Paul Pugsley, medical director of emergency medicine at Valleywise Health. Of these, around 40% do not survive.

Cooling patients well before they arrive at the emergency room could change the equation, he said.

The technique “is not widely used in non-military hospitals in the United States, nor in the prehospital setting of firefighters or first responders,” Pugsley said. He said part of that could be due to a long-standing perception that using this technique for all heatstroke cases by first responders or even hospitals was impractical or even impossible.

Pugsley said he is aware of the limited use of this technique in some locations in California, including Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno and the San Antonio Fire Department in Texas .

Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix adopted the protocol last summer, said Dr. Aneesh Narang, associate medical director of emergency medicine.

“This cold water immersion therapy is really the standard of care for treating heatstroke patients,” he said.


Associated Press writers Rio Yamat and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

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