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B.C. health officials urge awareness of indoor heat risks during summer

The BCEHS reminds residents to check on vulnerable family, friends and neighbours.

Since the heat dome of the summer of 2021—which killed 619 people in B.C.—more of us have been alert to the impact of rising temperatures.

While we may all think about temperatures for ourselves and our families when we are heading outside, British Columbia Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) public information officer Rachelle Bown said thinking about indoor temperatures is vital when those hot summer days hit.

"The indoor heat is actually the cause of more illness, injury and death," she said.

Thus, the BCEHS reminds residents to check on vulnerable family, friends and neighbours, such as those living alone, people over the age of 65, those who are pregnant, children under five years old, those under the influence of substances and those suffering from mental illnesses.

"Those are all higher risk groups for heat,” she said.

Fellow BCEHS public information officer Brian Twaites encourages folks to be proactive before the temperatures rise.

"So, the person down the hall who is elderly, and has nobody really checking on them, just go down, knock on their door and say, 'Hey, you know what, if it gets really warm, I've got air conditioning, come on down to my apartment, we'll have a cup of tea,’” he said, adding other ways to help someone vulnerable beat the heat are to take them to a mall or library, or cooling centre where there is air conditioning. 

“That can be life-saving,” he said.

Where possible, both information officers said it's a good idea to purchase affordable fans and portable air conditioners while they are plentiful rather than waiting until the middle of a hot day to go looking for them.

A do-it-yourself form of air conditioner can also be made with a simple fan, Twaites said, by making the fan directional with some cardboard, and putting it in front of some ice water. 

"It's going to blow that cold air to the body,” he said.

Working in the heat

For those who work in the heat, such as construction workers, being prepared is also key to avoiding heat illness.

Twaites suggests wetting towels or face clothes and freezing them the night before for the next day at work.

"Pull them out and put them on the back of your neck, onto your forehead, into your armpits and stuff like that—areas that are going to help cool you quicker,” he said.

Stuck on the highway

Just like in winter months, when hitting the road, say to go up or down the Sea to Sky Highway, it is important to plan for the conditions.

It is not uncommon to get stuck on Highway 99 for hours due to a crash, so plan for that possibility by having a full tank of gas, plenty of fluids, and changes of clothing—a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and hats, for example—and snacks.

"You can put a cooler into the back of your car; we quite often do that for paramedics here," Twaites said.

"We provide them with really good water bottles to help keep them hydrated."

Bown noted that people often overestimate how much gas it uses to run the air conditioner in a vehicle.

"I have actually had to do that, and it didn't use as much gas as you would think, especially if you are going in intervals of turning your car on and off for that AC," she said.

Twaites added that if you do approach a crash, pull over to the side of the road and park to leave an open lane for emergency vehicles to pass.

What about the wind?

In places like Squamish, like on the new oceanfront beaches, the wind can be deceptive on a hot day.

The skin may feel cool, but the sun's impact in terms of its damaging rays is the same.

"You're wearing protective clothing. You're applying your sunscreen, ideally SPF30 or higher. You know, the wind is not making the sun less bright, so you are wanting to put your hat on, stay hydrated, stay in the shade wherever you can as well," Brown said.

Anyone with questions about the impact of the heat can call 811, the free provincial health information hotline.