Even the city's paramedics are feeling the heat

May 31, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

Lt. Alan E. Bull, a supervisor of paramedics, stands on the second floor of the Oldtown Fire Station on Hillen Street. He is hot and uncomfortable.

"No air is in this building," Bull says. On that day, yesterday, the temperature reached a record high of 99. He is 5 feet, 6 inches tall with a mustache. He supervises the paramedics who work on the west side of town.

The lights are turned off in some parts of the brick fire station to help keep employees cool. Some employees use ice packs.

"It will be another month before the air conditioner is repaired," Bull says, adding that the condition is made worse because the windows don't open.

Bull also is concerned about conditions outside the station and how the heat affects the job of paramedics. About 3:30 p.m., he jumps into his orange and white Jeep, number EMS4, and drives to the west side, ready to support paramedics responding to possible life-threatening situations. At 4 p.m., the dispatcher issues a call to help a woman experiencing shortness of breath in a dwelling on Baker Street.

Bull, with siren wailing, zooms along the streets until he reaches a rowhouse in the 700 block of Baker St. He alights from the Jeep and --es up the stoop, toting an orange shoulder bag, ready to assist paramedics already inside.

Inside, Marie Andrews, an elderly woman, has been overcome by the heat.

"She's really hot, at least 110 degrees to 120 degrees," Bull says, as paramedics work on Andrews.

"She wasn't eating or taking in fluids," he says. "The next thing you know, it's dehydration."

Andrew's vital signs are fine, Bull says. She's placed in an ambulance and given oxygen and ice packs to lower her body temperature. An electrocardiogram, or EKG, shows her heart is OK.

Bull says the window fan that Andrews was using was throwing out hot air and not circulating cool air.

As Andrews is being placed in the ambulance, her sister stands in the doorway, teary-eyed. She isn't sure what's wrong.

Bull says Andrews may be suffering from dehydration. He adds that doctors at Maryland General Hospital will make a definite diagnosis. The paramedic's job is to keep a sick person stabilized until a doctor can perform an examination.

During periods of extreme heat, people are susceptible to such illnesses as heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps, paramedics say. Paramedics themselves complain about the heat in their ambulances.

Heat stroke is the most severe and can be life-threatening. The victim becomes delirious, has seizures, falls unconscious, has dry skin, high fever or convulsions.

Heat exhaustion is caused by excessive losses of salt and water, usually from over-exertion. Symptoms include dizziness, confusion, headache, nausea and clammy skin.

Heat cramps cause cramps in the large muscles and symptoms include profuse sweating.

Drinking fluids with electrolytes and staying cool are suggested to avoid heat-related illnesses. "Water is the best," says Lt. Henry C. Burris, a paramedic.

Bull says from experience that summertime is the busiest time of year for paramedics. That's when violence increases and the heat complicates existing health problems and brings on new ones, he says.

"The higher the temperature goes -- I guess it's a human trait -- people become irritable," Bull says. "People have a tendency to get angry with one another and sometimes get violent."

Last year, Baltimore led the nation with more than 110,000 emergency calls, the majority coming in the summer, Bull says.

As Bull's 10-hour shift nears its end at 4:15 p.m., Burris takes over.

About 5:30 p.m., Burris responds to a dispatcher's call of a sick woman in the 100 block of N. Amity St.

When Burris arrives, the family of Ellen Cole, 84, tells him she has refused to eat or drink anything for a couple of days.

"We gave her food, Kool-Aid and iced tea but she didn't take it," Gertrude Edwards, 56, says of her mother.

The silver-haired Cole, dressed in a white nightgown, is carried downstairs and placed on a gurney. She will go to University of Maryland Medical Center for observation.

Paramedic Marge Petty says she believes Cole, who has a history of heart problems, is suffering an attack of heat exhaustion.

Outside, Edwards looks inside the ambulance where her mother is treated. "You know she's not feeling well when she doesn't refuse to go the hospital," the daughter says.

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