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Phoenix fire captain discusses what it's like to work as the city breaks heat records

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Phoenix, Ariz., broke a record Tuesday with 19 consecutive days of temperatures reaching 110 degrees or more. Firefighters have been really busy helping people suffering from the heat, and here to tell us all about it is Phoenix fire captain Kimberly Quick-Ragsdale. Captain, what does it feel like to be in Phoenix the last few weeks?

KIMBERLY QUICK-RAGSDALE: It's been very challenging on us firefighters. It's been extremely hot. We're seeing consecutive days with temperatures above 110. And all across the Valley, our citizens are having a difficult time with these temperatures.

MARTÍNEZ: And if you're going on a call that's not fire-related, are the firefighters not wearing all that gear at least?

QUICK-RAGSDALE: Just the nature of our job requires us to work outside in the elements. We wear heavy, thick gear, whether it's EMS equipment. We do mountain rescues, and then we have our heavy firefighter turnouts. So we're wearing, you know, gear no matter what the call is. If it's an EMS call, we're wearing brush pants, which are a little bit of a thinner pant, heavy steel-toed boots, and then we have our EMS gloves and vests. And so, you know, we're out in the elements all the time in this heat.

MARTÍNEZ: Loaded down either way.

QUICK-RAGSDALE: Yes.

MARTÍNEZ: How many heat-related calls is your department getting?

QUICK-RAGSDALE: So we're seeing an uptick from last year of about 20%. Already this year, from July 1 to July 16, we're seeing about 418 heat-related calls.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. And how were you able to handle all those calls?

QUICK-RAGSDALE: So the city of Phoenix, we have a bunch of resources. We know the heat's coming every year. We prepare our firefighters by getting them acclimated to the heat, staying hydrated and limiting, you know, our activities during midday and limiting, you know, our training. So we're very prepared for this. And, you know, the best thing right now is to just seek shelter and shade and stay inside when it - when you can.

MARTÍNEZ: Phoenix is just a hot place. I think everyone knows that. For you, Captain, though, I mean, what temperature does it have to get where you're thinking, OK, this is going to be uncomfortable?

QUICK-RAGSDALE: So, you know, I think for the Valley that the trigger is about 105, right?

MARTÍNEZ: One-oh-five.

QUICK-RAGSDALE: You know, in the morning here at Phoenix Fire, we get an overhead announcement stating that the temperature is, you know, 105 and to stay hydrated, stay indoors, limit physical activity. So I would say about 105 and creeping on up, we start, you know, taking notice.

MARTÍNEZ: So, like, 104 - that's still OK. We're still under the threshold.

QUICK-RAGSDALE: Right.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. What advice do you have for people in Phoenix, or maybe even just across the entire Southwest, to try and cope with this extreme heat? Because still, people do make some really seemingly dumb mistakes when they go outside in this kind of heat.

QUICK-RAGSDALE: Right. Absolutely. You know, the heat kind of sneaks up on you. You think, oh, I can handle it. But we're telling people, you know, really listen to the warnings. You know, don't go out hiking when it's 118 degrees. Just listen to your body. Take care of yourself. Stay hydrated. Limit physical activities. Wear cool, lightweight, loose clothing. Check on the most vulnerable populations right now. We have unsheltered people. We have the homeless. And then also, young children cannot tell you when they're getting hot.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Captain Kimberly Quick-Ragsdale with the Phoenix Fire Department. Thank you very much, Captain.

QUICK-RAGSDALE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.