Fit as a firefighter

Electric lights for Rehab? No, they're electrolytes!

Firefighter licks saltElectrolytes are important to firefighters because if you don’t put them into your body after sweating, you may end up light headed, dizzy, weak, throwing up your diesel burger or may even have you going down for the count.  Just ask my father what happened when he forgot to take his salt pills while sweating up a storm farming the wheat fields of Saskatchewan.  Electrolytes are important minerals like Sodium (Na+ or salt to you and me) and Potassium (K+) that keep your nerves and muscles working, including your heart.

Let’s use a fire ground example.  Imagine you are at a fire during winter and after putting the fire out, the sidewalks freeze over. You lay down some salt to keep from slipping, but the fire flares up again so you throw some more water on it. The problem is that the salt that kept you from doing the moonwalk is now diluted and not as effective.

Now imagine what happens in your body when you fight a fire. With hard work, you lose electrolytes as they exit with water (sweat) in order to cool the body.  This process thickens your blood and makes your heart work harder.  To alleviate this strain on the heart, you must drink enough water to get your blood volume back up.  This should be done before the firefight, during (while at rehab) and after, as dehydration can lead to heart attacks which remain firefighter's #1 killer.  The problem is that sometimes when you drink water after heavy sweating, the water dilutes the salts and minerals left in the blood.  Just like in the example of laying more water on top of the salt at the fire.

So how do you replace the electrolytes?  Well, electrolytes can easily be replenished by pulling a nice post-fire snack from your pocket like a potassium-containing banana and the salt lick block you normally hid for deer hunting season.  As this isn't very practical, it's handy to carry a sports drink on the rig and remember that air management has electrolyte packages (one package for 20 oz of water making 2.5 servings) that you can add to a large water bottle.  So make sure to drink lots of water and remember to add those electrolytes after a good sweat.

Stay safe

Scott Miller