Heating Up for Summer

Author: IAFF Staff

August 14, 2017

To be successful, fire fighters depend on water to put out a fire or to stay hydrated on the job. Firefighting is a physically demanding job, and performance is greatly compromised when dehydrated. Even mild dehydration can result in decreased performance.

Maintaining normal body fluid balance is critical to any high-performance activity. According to Firefighter Nation (2011), exercising can cause people to lose between 8 and 16 ounces of water within an hour, on average. In addition, a fire fighter could lose as much as 50 – 70 ounces in sweat in just 30 – 45 minutes of firefighting activity. That’s why fire fighters must pay close attention to their water consumption.

Dehydration and Mental Health

The human brain is made up of about 75 percent water, and dehydration can quickly affect how we think and feel. Dehydration slows circulation and lowers blood flow, which results in less oxygen traveling to the brain.

Studies have shown dehydration contributes to drops in alertness, concentration and fatigue. It can also lead to headaches, anger and mood swings. These changes in mood and cognitive functioning can be challenging for any fire fighter. For those also dealing with depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, the negative effects of dehydration can make a difficult day even worse.

Staying hydrated and eating nutrient-dense meals and snacks are effective daily habits for maintaining physical and mental well-being. In addition, hydration and healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as exercise, can strengthen resilience and provide extra protection to fire fighters as they deal with the stresses of the job.

Hydration Tips

To determine how hydrated you are, look at the color of your urine. Normal hydration levels should produce a pale yellow color. If needed, sports drinks can boost electrolyte levels and energy better than just water alone. Ultimately, you should be drinking half your body weight in fluid ounces each day (e.g., 85 fluid ounces for a 170-pound person).

For optimal fitness and job performance, fire fighters need to be hydrated before, during and after running a call. Below are some helpful tips for staying hydrated, provided by Firefighter Nation (2011):

Prior to Fireground Operations (or exercise):

  • Drink at least 16 ounces of water an hour before operations/exercise to ensure your fluid levels are up to par. If you’re dehydrated prior to exercise, try to consume 32 ounces of water.
  • Drink 8 to 10 fluid ounces every 10 – 15 minutes.

During Fireground Operations (or exercise):

  • Drink cool (40 degrees F) water, dilute fluids at a minimum rate of at least 8 ounces every 15 minutes or 34 ounces per hour. If dehydrated, drink 8 ounces every 10 minutes, or 50 ounces per hour.
  • If exercising longer than 90 minutes, drink 8 – 10 ounces of a sports drink (with no more than 8 percent carbohydrate) every 15 – 30 minutes.

After Fireground Operations (or exercise):

  • If the exercise (fireground activity) lasts for less than an hour, the body should have sufficient electrolyte and carbohydrate supplies to maintain optimal performance. Therefore, for short periods of exercise, water is just as good as sports drinks.
  • If exercise (fireground activity) lasts for more than an hour, use a sports drink with electrolytes and carbohydrates, along with water to rehydrate the body.
  • Weigh yourself before and after exercise, replace fluid losses, and drink 20 – 24 ounces of water for every pound lost.
  • If no water was consumed during exercise (fireground operations), aggressively rehydrate at a rate of 16 ounces of fluids with electrolytes every 15 – 20 minutes.

It is critical that fire fighters and paramedics stay hydrated to be successful on the job and remain mentally and physically fit. Throughout the chaos of running calls — particularly during the hot summer months — it is extremely important to follow these hydration tips and always have a bottle of water handy.

Medical Disclaimer: The IAFF Center of Excellence aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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