Hypothermia

Category: 
Firefighter Health First-Aid
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Nov 2019

 

Hypothermia occurs when your core body temperature falls below normal. It can easily happen in cold winds or wetness. Hypothermia can also occur in moderately cool temperatures, particularly if coupled with dehydration. People tend to forget to drink on cool, wet days and can get hypothermic even when the temperature stays well above freezing.

Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Slurred speech.
  • Weakness and loss of coordination.
  • Confusion.
  • Irrational behavior.
  • Uncontrollable shivering (although, at extremely low body temperatures, shivering may stop).
  • Pale and cold skin.
  • Drowsiness – especially in more severe stages.
  • Slowed breathing or heart rate.

Your body automatically begins to shiver to warm itself. As your energy is used up to keep warm, you may reach a point where your body will be unable to warm itself. If left untreated, your body will gradually shut down; and you can die.

You can avoid hypothermia with the following precautions:

  • Guard against dehydration.
  • Avoid fatigue.
  • Avoid cold winds.
  • Take precautions, change out of wet clothes.
  • Be aware of the symptoms and take action upon their onset.

If you recognize hypothermia, take the following steps:

  • Move the patient to shelter.
  • Remove wet clothes and replace them with warm, dry garments.
  • If the victim is alert, give them food and warm liquids to drink.

 

Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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