Summer Safety Is No Accident: Tips From A Former Firefighter

We all look forward to the summertime and all the activities that come with being outdoors. The fun in the sun is a reward for being cooped up in the house during the winter and rainy spring months. Along with all the outdoor activity comes increased exposure to risk. I remember a call I responded […]

We all look forward to the summertime and all the activities that come with being outdoors. The fun in the sun is a reward for being cooped up in the house during the winter and rainy spring months. Along with all the outdoor activity comes increased exposure to risk.

I remember a call I responded to as a firefighter one hot summer day. We were dispatched to a child locked in a car in front of a convenience store. It was about a five minute response, and when we arrived the mother was in a panic and the bystanders stood there helpless. We carry special tools for getting into locked vehicles, and can usually do so very quickly without damaging the car, but this time was different.

There, on the floor of the vehicle, the two-year-old child was crawling around trying to escape the heat. He was beet red, in distress and had stopped sweating. I had one of my crew members immediately break the glass in a rear door and we snatched the child from the scorching interior. He was so hot to touch, I can still remember that moment. It was the only time I ever saw a need to break the glass on this type of call. The ambulance arrived not long after our engine and the child was immediately transported to the hospital.

All summer long, these accidental lock outs occur. Sometimes it’s a case of the driver accidently locking the door and other times the child or dog may lock it. In the heat of the summer sun, it only takes a few minutes for this to become a critical emergency. If it happens to you, immediately call 911. It’s better to get the fire and police to respond to your location and not need them than to waste precious minutes attempting to get in with a coat hanger. If the car is running with the air conditioner on, that changes things and reduces the degree of danger to the child. But you still need to call 911. Many people keep a spare key in their wallet or purse “just in case”. I once had my dog lock my truck door while parked on the beach with an in-coming tide. She had stood up to watch me and stepped on the door lock switch, locking me out and locking her in. The spare key in my wallet saved me that day and I didn’t need to break a window.

A common occurrence during the heat of summer is the afternoon thunderstorm. Just about every day, the weather forecast calls for a chance of storms and 50% of the time it’s pretty accurate. Besides the lightning, a relatively unknown danger is the water on the road surface. The first concern is the oils in the asphalt which come to the surface making the roads slick as ice. The second is water collecting on the road surface causing vehicles to hydroplane out of control. I once ran a call for a vehicle accident on I-95 where a car had hydroplaned out of control and down an embankment. Shortly after the wrecker arrived, another car hit the same spot and hydroplaned into it on the shoulder of the highway.

There are some sections of highway that consistently hold water rather than allowing it to drain properly, resulting in one accident after another in the same location just about every time it rains hard. I remember responding to a call in the Battalion Chief vehicle and when I merged off Powhite Parkway onto the off ramp I was suddenly skimming across the surface of the thin layer of water on the road. For a brief two seconds I felt the loss of contact with the road, separated by a thin layer of water. Fortunately, the car continued in a straight line onto a dryer section of road and I could again feel the tires in contact with the pavement. Needless to say, it was a terrible feeling if even for a mere two seconds.

There are several causes for hydroplaning:

1. Driving too fast in the rain
2. Water too deep on roadway
3. Tire tread is worn out
4. Driving in rain after a long drought – the water brings the oil to the surface of the road causing the road to be slick
5. Turning your steering wheel too fast to make a turn in the rain

Another problem with the summer thunderstorms is the power failures that come with high winds and lightning strikes. The last house fire I responded to before retiring was in July of 2009. A power failure had occurred during a storm and the homeowner was in the middle of preparing dinner on the electric stovetop. After some time without electricity or air conditioning, the occupants left to spend the night at the home of a friend.

The next day they went to work and around noon the power company had repaired the problem and restored the electricity. The pan of grease on the stovetop began heating since the stovetop eye was left in the on position. Two hours later, we received a call that the house was on fire. The pan of grease had set the cabinets on fire, then burned up the stairs to the second floor. This is a common cause of house fires after the storm has long passed.

One more common cause of house fires during and after storms is the use of candles in the house. I ran one house fire call where a candle was left burning in a glass container sitting on plastic shelving in the bathroom. The last remaining part of the candle was burning low enough to heat up the container and melt the shelf, allowing the candle to fall through to the trash can. This fire burned the entire second floor and through the roof before our fire engine even arrived.

When you lose power make sure all appliances are turned off and candles are closely monitored. Keep candles away from curtains and draperies. Place a non-combustible cup coaster under the candle. Keep an eye out for children playing with the candles throughout the house. Put the lighters or matches out of reach of children after lighting the candles.

  • error

    Report an error

Dave Daniels

This article has been closed to further comments.