The heat is on in Central Texas, and for some it can be deadly

Contractors working on the expansion of Interstate 35 in Waco were coping with searing temperatures Wednesday. (Photo by Paul J. Gately)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) The heat is on in Central Texas and for those who work outside, the intense temperatures can be deadly.

Very hot conditions are in store for Central Texas at least through the end of the week with high temperatures around 100 and heat index readings as high as 110.

"It's really hot and it can be dangerous," said a supervisor who works for Webber Construction Company, the contractor on the Interstate 35 project in Waco.

He oversees about 50 workers who are laboring on the project.

"Heat is something we are very careful about because it can affect officers who are working on the street," Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.

Anyone can fall victim to excessive heat and if the early symptoms of heat stroke or dehydration aren't heeded, the situation can become life-threatening in seconds.

"If you're in the sun and feeling dizzy or extremely hot, very thirsty, sweating heavily or shaky, those are early signs of dehydration and heat stroke," Dr. Jill Clay, of Uncommon Medical, in Waco, said.

If the affected person catches the symptoms early, just stopping work, going inside to cool off and drinking copious amounts of water can restore stability.

"But then the mistake people make is, they feel better, so they go back outside," Clay said.

"Don't do that. If you come inside to cool down because you fear heat illness, don't go back outside until the next day.

"Once you overheat, then cool down, it's very easy to overheat again, so just wait to finish your mowing until tomorrow," Clay warned.

However, if those symptoms turn into more serious problems, like not sweating at all, changes in urine color from clear to orange, a lack of moisture in the mouth or headache or clammy skin, the victim should seek immediate medical attention, Clay said.

It's those symptoms that Waco’s risk management director watches for.

"Barry Barrington, in the city's risk management office, goes out of his way to warn city workers who work in the heat that we need to pay attention," Swanton said.

Swanton pointed out that in situations that require special attention, Barrington will have extra water and ice delivered to scenes where officers or firefighters are working to make sure they stay hydrated.

"Just last week at the bus wreck on Lake Shore Drive, by the time officers got there, Mr. Barrington had stopped, was directing traffic and assessing injuries," Swanton said.

"Then before he left, he handed officers some warning flags to use while they were directing traffic."

Clay said she's seen probably a dozen patients who suffered heat injury in the past several weeks and emergency room staff at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center say they've been seeing two to three cases a day, but so far none have been life threatening.

Treatment is one thing, but prevention is the key, Clay said.

"We carry extra water on fire trucks and when our firefighters spend extra time at a scene, we make sure they drink lots," Temple Fire &I Rescue spokesman Thomas Pechal said.

At Fort Hood the Army watches weather issues very closely and has a system for preventing heat injuries.

"During periods of extreme heat, unit leaders exercise precautions and mitigate risk with ice water and work-rest cycle rotations," a Fort Hood spokesman said.

"Additionally, units also have medics attached to monitor and recognize early signs and symptoms of heat illness."

He went on to say: "There are currently no plans to suspend training due to the heat."

But construction workers, especially those who build roadways, are in the hot sun from rise to set and they routinely have issues with heat.

"When it's hot like this I add extra break time and we encourage extra water," the supervisor for the Webber Construction Company said.

"I even go around to the work sites with my pickup every-once-in-a-while and let the guys get in the truck and cool off," he said.

A supervisor for Knife River Construction, who is rebuilding a roadway in Robinson, said his crews are working to complete their daily tasks early in the morning.

"We have to pour (concrete) early in the day because if we wait 'til after lunch it's too hot," he said, as he wiped sweat from his face.

He said not only is the heat an issue for workers, but the extreme temperature also can affect the way the concrete sets up.

"It's hot. It's tough. But these guys have been building roads in Texas in the summertime for lots of years," he said.

"They know they have to be careful, but they also know how to do it and stay safe."