Stay safe this summer with tips from Etowah County EMA

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By Katilin 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 few of these dangers are extreme heat, severe weather and forest fires.

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 focusing on themselves. Everyone is at risk for heat strokes, heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Here are a few tips courtesy of the Gadsden/Etowah County EMA’s handout “Hot Weather Safety Tips”: Drink plenty of water and replace minerals you sweat 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 your pets.

“Just use common sense,” said David Heflin, Public Information Officer of the Gadsden/Etowah County EMA. “If it’s 105 degrees outside, don’t go mow your grass with a push mower.”

Some jobs require you to be outside and there is no way to avoid that. If you’re working and you realize you have stopped sweating that means you are dehydrated. If you are not sweating and you are dizzy, light headed, nauseated or have a headache, stop working immediately. If those symptoms occur you should find a cool, shaded spot to sit in and you should 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 (NWS) issues an excessive heat warning or an extreme heat advisory, the local EMA will call on volunteers to open up cooling centers. These cooling centers are air conditioned and they offer water to drink. During a heat emergency, Elliot Community Center, Carver Community Center and the Gadsden Public Library will be open as cooling centers during normal business hours.

Another danger to be aware of is severe weather. Severe weather is severe thunderstorms, flooding and tornadoes. Unlike heat strokes, you cannot avoid thunderstorms. However, you can plan for them.

“It’s not if, but when a disaster hits,” said Heflin.

The best way to prepare for a disaster is to remember: plan, pack, practice and prepare. Make sure your family has a plan and that everyone in your family unit knows the plan. You should include evacuation, meeting places and emergency contacts in your plan.

You should also prepare emergency kits. These 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, a first aid kit and much more. For a complete list of all the items your family may need in an emergency, visit www.ready.gov.

The main months for tornadic activity is April, March and November. However, nature doesn’t always follow schedules. If your area is placed under a tornado watch you need to implement your emergency plan. With a tornado watch, you have minutes, with a tornado warning you have seconds.

“If you wait for a warning, you’ve waited too late,” said Heflin.

Since 1950, Etowah County has had 26 confirmed tornadoes touch down. In 2015 alone, there were 41 days of severe weather activity. To keep you and your family safe, prepare now. Invest in a NOAA Weather Radio, text alerts or weather apps to help keep your family aware.

Apart from tornadoes and extreme heat, severe weather also includes lightning, strong winds, hail, flooding and more. Remember these two phrases “Turn around, don’t drown” and “If thunder roars, go indoors.”

“If you are close enough to hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning,” said Heflin.

Forest fires is another main concern for this time of the year. With the extreme heat drying out our grass and the increase in outdoor activities, remember to be courtesy and use common sense when camping or barbecuing.

Make sure your campfires are completely out before going to sleep or leaving the campsite. Pour water over the coals of any fire or grill to ensure that the fire is out. For more information on fire safety when camping, visit www.smokeybear.com.

With the 4th of July comes great fun and more dangers. Fireworks are a great way to enjoy the holiday but they are also very dangerous. Exercise these 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 ignited fully, keep a bucket of water or a 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.

Annually fireworks are responsible for nearly 10,000 injuries. 46% of these injuries impact the hands and fingers, while 34% impact ears and eyes. Sparklers are the number one cause of injury when using fireworks. Sparklers produce temperatures that can reach 1200 degrees. Additionally, fireworks cause an average of 18,500 reported fires each year.

If you want to see a firework show but don’t want to injure yourself or your loved ones, 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. The new riverside park will not be open for this event.

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.

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