© 2024 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

First responders in Phoenix are using a new treatment during heat emergencies


If you live in parts of the west or southwest U.S, then you already know it's really hot this week. Heat-related deaths in Phoenix have skyrocketed in the past decade, so first responders are using a new treatment during heat emergencies. Katherine Davis-Young, with member station KJZZ, has this report.

KATHERINE DAVIS-YOUNG, BYLINE: Outside Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix, a mannequin lying on the sidewalk represents someone who's passed out in scorching heat. Captain John Prato with the Phoenix Fire Department says the most important thing is to cool the patient down quickly. The way to do that is with a huge, watertight bag.

JOHN PRATO: We're going to place them in this bag. There's a lot of things happening at this point - we're starting multiple IVs...

DAVIS-YOUNG: He pulls bags of ice out of a cooler, tears them open and dumps ice in with the patient.


DAVIS-YOUNG: Then he zips the bag up to the mannequin's chest.


PRATO: If we can cut down 20-30 minutes just cooling them during drive time to the hospital, that shows an increase in survivability.

DAVIS-YOUNG: The Phoenix Fire Department started trying out these cold-water immersion bags last summer - this year, it's the official protocol for heat stroke. Doctors at the Valleywise ER have seen heatstroke cases soar in recent years. On average, last summer, these patients came to the hospital with body temperatures of 107. Forty percent of them died. Dr. Jeffrey Stowell says some survivors were left with neurological damage.

JEFFREY STOWELL: For lack of a better word, they're cooking their brains during this time, and the longer their temperature is high, and the longer their brain is hot, the worse their outcome will be.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Stowell says fans and ice packs had been standard treatment, but those methods can take over an hour to cool a heatstroke patient, so a few years ago, Valleywise began using the ice-filled bags - a method used by the military and sports doctors. Stowell says they saw patients improve in 10-30 minutes.

STOWELL: They're pretty unresponsive at those temperatures. It is not uncommon, though, as we cool them, when they get down to a normal temperature, that they start to wake up - and even, at times, will wake up and start talking to us and kind of respond immediately.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Other Phoenix-area ERs have adopted similar techniques, but it's not common practice around the country. Nationwide, more and more people are suffering heat-related illnesses, as climate change drives more frequent heat waves. Valleywise emergency doctor Geoffrey Comp says the ice-filled bags could be a valuable tool for other hospitals. He says he's heard from former medical students.

GEOFFREY COMP: They're telling me, hey, I did it up in Idaho, I did it over in California, and it's really encouraging to see that the work that we're doing here in Phoenix is hopefully taking off in other parts of the country.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Comp hopes that will mean more lives saved. For NPR News, I'm Katherine Davis-Young in Phoenix.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Katie Davis-Young
[Copyright 2024 NPR]