By Kaitlin Fleming, Staff Correspondent
The 4th of July is right around the corner and the temperature is rising in Alabama. So how can you and your family stay safe and have fun this summer?
The most important part of staying safe is staying aware of the dangers that accompany the vacation months. A couple of these dangers are extreme heat and severe weather.
Extreme heat is something every person should be concerned about. Most of the time people will focus on children, senior citizens and their pets without being concerned for themselves. Everyone is at risk for heat strokes, heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Some jobs require employees to be outside and there is no way to avoid that. If while working and sweating has stopped that means dehydration has began. If you are not sweating, are dizzy, lightheaded, nauseated or have a headache, stop working immediately. If those symptoms occur one should find a cool, shaded spot to sit in and drink water. If the symptoms persist, seek medical attention.
Heat stroke is extremely dangerous and can lead to death or permanent disability. To avoid heat stroke, take as many breaks as you can, protect your skin and stay hydrated.
If the National Weather Service issues an excessive heat warning or an extreme heat advisory, the local Emergency Management Agency will call on volunteers to open up cooling centers. Which are air conditioned and offer water to drink. During a heat emergency, be sure to check the local EMA’s Facebook and Twitter pages for updates on cooling centers.
The Gadsden/Etowah County EMA provided a few tips for hot summer days: drink plenty of water and replace minerals sweated out, limit sun exposure during mid-day hours, avoid hot foods, dress lightly, shade children and make sure their skin is protected, never leave children or pets in a parked vehicle and always provide a shaded area and fresh water for pets.
“There are a few sayings about leaving children in cars: look before you lock and beat the heat, check the backseat,” said Breonna Cole, Public Information Officer for the Gadsden/Etowah County EMA.
“Of course, we know to never leave children in a parked car,” said Cole. “However we sometimes forget that the buckles on car seats can get hot. Make sure to check children’s buckles before fastening them.”
Cole suggested parking in a shaded area to help keep those safety buckles cooler.
Another danger to be aware of is severe weather, which includes severe thunderstorms, flooding and tornadoes. Unlike heat strokes, thunderstorms cannot be avoided. However, they can be planned for.
“We always say it’s not if, but when a disaster hits,” said Cole.
The best way to prepare for a disaster is remembering to: plan, pack, practice and prepare. All families should have a plan and everyone in the family unit should know it. One should include evacuation, meeting places and emergency contacts. Those with pets should have an emergency kit that contains photos of the owner and pet together, food and water, a leash and any medications that may be needed.
Emergency kits should include water and dried or canned food, hygiene items, seasonal clothing, blankets, flashlights and batteries, waterproof matches, whistles, important documents such as birth certificates and IDs, utility knife, manual can opener, extra set of keys, cash or traveler’s checks and a first aid kit. Make sure that all family members have hard-soled shoes and helmets as well as the emergency kits. If medications are taken daily those medications should be in the kit. For a complete list of all the items needed in an emergency, visit www.ready.gov. The EMA suggests having an emergency kit in homes, cars and boats.
One should also know where to go in the event of inclement weather. For a list of local shelters, visit http://www.shelteretowah.com. This site can be used to find nearby shelters and it can indicate which shelters are handicap accessible and pet friendly.
The main months for tornadic activity are April, March and November. However, nature doesn’t always follow schedules. If a tornado watch is issued, emergency plans should be implemented. With a tornado watch, there are only minutes to spare, with a tornado warning there are only seconds.
“If a watch is issued, you need to go ahead and get to your safe place,” said Cole “You should bring your emergency kits with you or have them inside of your safe place.”
Since 1950, Etowah County has had 27 confirmed tornadoes touch down. So far in 2018, one tornado descended upon Etowah County. On March 19 an EF2 tornado touched down northeast of Ashville along Highway 411. The tornado continued at an eastwardly and northeastwardly direction and intensified as it approached the Coosa River, where a good bit of structural damage occurred. The tornado then crossed Neely Henry Lake, where it was at its widest point and then moved into Etowah County. The tornado crossed Highway 77 near Leota Road, where numerous trees were uprooted and several structures were damaged by falling trees. The tornado continued east where it narrowed and further intensified toward Green Valley Road in Southside. The most intense damage occurred in that area and several structures suffered complete loss of roofs and exterior walls. The path of destruction was 15.68 miles long and 2000 yards wide at its widest point. Surprisingly, no fatalities and only one injury were reported, despite the spontaneous nature of the storms that produced the tornado. This storm serves as a reminder that when a tornado watch is in place, it should be taken very seriously.
To keep safe, prepare now. Invest in a weather radio, enroll in text alerts or download weather apps to help keep aware of on-going or potential weather events.
Apart from tornadoes and extreme heat, severe weather also includes lightning, strong winds, hail and flooding. Remember these two phrases: “Turn around, don’t drown” and “If thunder roars, go indoors.”
With the upcoming holiday, the river will be full of boats, pontoons and canoes. Boating safety should be a top priority when having fun on the water. The EMA discourages drinking alcohol while on boats to avoid accidents and heat-related problems. Alcohol dehydrates the body and can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat strokes. Life jackets are another priority while boating. Most boating casualties are a result of individuals not wearing life jackets. If you are on the water in Etowah County without a life jacket you will be given a ticket.
With the 4th of July comes fun but more dangers. Fireworks are a great way to enjoy the holiday but are very dangerous. Exercise the following tips, courtesy of the Gadsden City Fire Department, in order to make this holiday safe and fun: never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks, never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not fully ignited, keep a bucket of water or garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap, make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them, light fireworks one at a time then move back quickly, never attempt to shoot fireworks from your hand, always follow manufacturers warnings and always keep a phone readily available to call 911 in the event of an emergency.
Fireworks are responsible for nearly 10,000 injuries annually. Forty six percent of these injuries impact the hands and fingers, while 34 percent impact ears and eyes. Sparklers are the number one cause of injury when using firework, producing temperatures that can reach 1,200 degrees. Additionally, fireworks cause an average of 18,500 reported fires each year.
If one wants to see a firework show on July 4 and stay safe while doing so, head over to Gadsden for the annual fireworks display. The show begins at 9 p.m. and the fireworks will be shot over the Coosa River.
For more information regarding emergency preparedness, contact the Gadsden/Etowah County EMA at 256-549-4575. For more information regarding firework safety, contact your local fire department.