First responders on alert for heat-related incidents, outdoor rescues


AUSTIN (KXAN) — With hot temperatures and a holiday weekend, first-responders in the Austin area have been on alert, well aware of the risk for both people exposed to the heat and for people venturing outdoors to places they’re unfamiliar with.

Austin- Travis County EMS told KXAN on Sunday afternoon that since July 4th they’ve responded to 15 heat-related calls — that’s five per day. Austin’s many miles of greenbelts are a particular area of focus for first responders when holidays hit or temperatures rise.

Sunday at 11:46 a.m. Austin Fire and Austin Travis County EMS went out in search of a man with two children, they were reported lost in the greenbelt.  Five minutes later Austin Fire Info tweeted that the firefighters found the man and his children, escorting them out safely. The man and his children had no reported injuries. 

Austin Fire explained to KXAN that the man “got turned around” and wasn’t sure where he was. Because he was with two children, he called 9-1-1 just to be safe.  AFD noted that this man had almost made his way out of the Greenbelt and to downtown, he just needed the extra help from first responders to figure out where he was going.

“He did the right thing by calling for help,” said Battalion Chief Matt Cox with Austin Fire.

Cox explained that anyone who is in distress is better off immediately calling 9-1-1. When that person calls using a smartphone, Austin Fire uses a technology which allows them to pinpoint the location of the caller and then plan a route to rescue them using maps.

“We had him call in, we got his longitude and latitude coordinates, we basically went straight to him,” Cox explained.

Austin Fire said they mentally prepare ahead for holiday weekends like these, though they added that rescues in greenbelts and outdoor spaces can happen any time of year or any day of the week.

“But definitely when we come into work on Saturdays and Sundays we know, oh there’s a good chance on a day like today, we’re gonna be at the Greenbelt two or 3 times,” Cox said.

Cox and his colleagues are trained to respond to people in need quickly, even in hard-to-reach areas like the thick of the Greenbelt. Still, there are things you can do to avoid getting into an emergency situation altogether.

Top of the list? All first responders we spoke with said it’s important to plan where you’re going beforehand and research your route. Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department actually has maps of the trails in the city online which you can download, AFD recommends printing them out the old-fashioned way.

“You gotta think about hydration, you gotta take water with you, you gotta tell someone where you’re going,” Cox said. He recommends sharing your location with a friend or family member on a smartphone before you go off on a hike.

He also encouraged those venturing outdoors to take breaks and allow themselves plenty of time to get where they’re going. It can be better to have someone with you, Cox said, because if you overexert yourself and become dizzy, it may become difficult for you to tell first responders where you are.

“It’s hot,” said Captain Matt Paul of Austin Travis County EMS, sweating as he spoke with KXAN in the July sun. “And it’s that time of year that people don’t really prepare themselves.”

“They come out, they’re used to going to the trail in winter and have no problems, and they come out for a run or come out for a walk today and it’s much hotter than they’re used to and they find themselves getting in trouble,” Paul continued.

“We really encourage you to get familiar with the area before you go out,” Paul said. “[It’s] so easy to get lost around here and whenever the sun comes out and the heat becomes a factor, it can become dangerous at that time.”

In particular, Paul recommends that you lookout for signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke on hot summer days in Austin. Those include:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Flushing of the skin (skin becomes red)
  • Losing the ability to communicate well
  • Confusion

Paul said those symptoms indicate a serious medical emergency. If you see anyone experiencing those, move that person to a cooler location, help cool them down, and call 9-1-1.

ATCEMS and AFD first responders also offered these tips to hikers:

  • Know where you are: Pay attention to trail signs and make note of major landmarks along the way.
  • Stay charged: Keep your cell phone available throughout the hike. Tell your friends which trail you plan on tackling before you go.
  • Be nice to your feet: Bring supportive shoes for the hike you plan to go on.
  • Weather awareness: Check the forecast with KXAN Weather before you head out the door.
  • Bring Water: Drink plenty before you go and make sure to pack enough to last you through the day.
  • Meds and Safety: Know your own medical needs and conditions and take the necessary precautions.

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