Phoenix firefighters battle scorching heat as they fight fires, rescue hikers

Four Phoenix firefighters assess a woman who is having chest pains. (Photo by Emily Blume/Cronkite News)

A Phoenix firefighter opens a fire hydrant as part of a training exercise. (Photo by Emily Blume/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The call comes in. A woman is having chest pains. Four Phoenix firefighters at Station No. 30 jump onto a truck, ignoring the triple-digit temperatures, and speed to an apartment to tend to the woman sitting on her couch.

How are you feeling? How long have you experienced this? The firefighters focus on the patient as children dart around the apartment.

She’s had one previous heart attack, she tells them. Firefighters place a stethoscope on her chest, take her oxygen levels and perform other tests. Then, two firefighters clamber into an ambulance with her so they can keep her stable until she arrives at a hospital.

It’s the first call of a day in an Arizona summer where heat can make firefighters’ duties even tougher.

They respond to heart attacks and other medical calls, car accidents, mountain hikers succumbing to heat exhaustion and, of course, fires. The day they called on the woman with chest pains, an excessive heat warning was in effect, one in a string of days with scorching temperatures.

While most people can keep cool indoors, they have to fight fires wearing steel-plated boots, heat-resistant jacket and pants, a helmet and an oxygen tank. It adds up to about 70 pounds.

“You get to the fire and that’s when it becomes a lot of physical work,” said Buddy DiCosmo, the captain at Station 30. “We’re pulling hoses, forcing entry, we’re working pretty hard. Then you’re inside where the temperatures could be up to 1200 degrees and were fighting fire.”

Firefighters’ 24-hour shifts can take them from a house fire to a mountain rescue.

DiCosmo previously worked at Station 12, where firefighters respond to calls for Camelback Mountain, Piestewa Peak and Papago Park. It’s common to have two or three rescues in one day, he said.

“You will have anywhere from 12 to 20 guys trying to rescue one guy,” DiCosmo said.

Firefighters have to take extra care to stay hydrated, drinking water before and during their shifts.

During the summer, a rehabilitation truck is sent on every fire call and some mountain rescues. The air-conditioned van, stocked with Gatorade, water and cooling fans, allows firefighters to rehydrate and cool down.