Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Keep a cool head when helping those vulnerable to heat

Take care of the young, the old, your pets, your car and yourself

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
Luke Essig chills out for his first birthday Tuesday at the Splash Park in Germantown with mother Lauren Essig.
With the temperature sweltering in the high 90s, experts are warning people to protect their health and the well-being of the young and the old, pets — and their motor vehicles.

The scorching heat is expected to continue through today, then drop into the mid-80s for the rest of the week.

For people, high temperatures can easily cause heat exhaustion and even heat stroke, warned Julian B. Orenstein, an emergency room physician at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville.

Construction workers, teens playing sports and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, he said: It is important to drink lots of water and stay out of the heat to cool the body down.

Symptoms of heat illness range from reddened skin and light-headedness to unconsciousness, seizures and death, the doctor said.

Neighbors and family should check on the elderly who have no access to good air conditioning or transportation to a community center, library or mall with air conditioning.

Those having trouble coping with heat should call the county’s Senior Information and Assistance unit at 240-777-3000.

The Metropolitan Council of Governments has issued a Code Orange alert, meaning the air quality is considered unhealthy for children and the elderly: They should remain indoors.

To help improve air quality on sweltering, humid days, the county recommends that people carpool, telecommute or take public transportation. For information on county bus schedules, call 240-777-7433 or visit

Also, put off fueling vehicles until after dark, postpone lawn and garden chores that require gasoline-powered engines, and don’t paint with oil-based paints on Code Orange days, according to the county. For more air quality tips, call 240-777-7700 or go to⁄DEP.

While air conditioning increases the amount of electricity used, the power grid is handling the higher demand, said Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson. Monday’s demand for electricity came in under the record demand experienced during last year’s July scorcher, he said.

Pepco advises people to keep drapes drawn and set air conditioner thermostats at 77 degrees. Anderson suggests using clean air conditioner filters and making sure furniture or lamps do not block ducts. More energy-saving tips can be found at⁄home⁄education⁄conserving.

The county is using the Progress Place shelter in Silver Spring, libraries and recreation centers to help the homeless and others to escape the heat. The county also provides free fans to low-income families, but only one or two requests for the fans are made each year, said county spokeswoman Mary Anderson.

If you need help, call the county’s Crisis Center at 240-777-4000.

Drivers should avoid leaving people and pets inside their vehicles — even if it’s only for a minute or two. It’s not only against the law, it’s dangerous.

When the temperature is in the 90s, the inside of a car parked in the sun can rapidly heat to dangerous levels, said John B. Townsend II, spokesman for the AAA of the Mid-Atlantic region.

High heat isn’t taxing only to people, it’s hard on vehicles, too, Townsend said: Engines overheat more easily and the heavy electrical demands from a vehicle’s air conditioning system can lead to breakdowns.

Townsend urges drivers to check radiator and coolant fluid levels and make sure there are no leaks or tears in the hoses and belts. Batteries, air filters and fuel filters should be inspected and replaced if needed.

And don’t forget your furry friends: Make sure pets are given plenty of shelter, shade and fresh, clean water.