MEDITERRANEAN SEA (NNS) -- The 1MC rings loudly - general quarters, general quarters. It's just another drill. Then, everything goes black.
"Even though I was on air, I couldn't breathe and my body started to hurt ... you couldn't tell I was sweating because of the firefighting ensemble, but you could see it when I took it off. My face was red. I was trying to talk, but I couldn't. I had to be seated just so I could calm down my breathing."
With three years of experience on a firefighting team aboard aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), Yeoman 3rd Class Abbey Escamilla has ran through countless drills and witnessed shipmates fall out due to heat stress, but she never expected to experience it herself.
"I was aware of what was going on, but my problem was I wasn't hydrated enough," added Escamilla. "That day, it was my body was telling me 'Hey, you're not capable of cooling yourself down right now. It is too hot and you're pushing too hard. You need to stop.'"
A heat stress casualty is an umbrella term encompassing three heat injuries: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. With Harry S. Truman Sailors operating at sea during the summer months, the increase in temperature raises the chance of heat injuries.
"Everyone is susceptible [to heat stress], but the people who are at a higher risk include those that have suffered previous heat stress injuries, those not acclimatized to the area, people with bad dietary habits, people who are overweight, and especially those that lack proper education on heat stress," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Christopher McCarthy.
Proper hydration cannot be stressed enough, added McCarthy. Something as simple as drinking a bottle of water can save your life. You can drink energy drinks, soda and coffee, but you should supplement that with at least two liters of water a day.
According to the Defense Health Agency, in 2017, there were a total of 2,163 incident cases of heat illness among active-component service members. From 2013-2017, there were 10,458 heat-related illnesses diagnosed at more than 250 military installations and geographic locations worldwide.
The Naval Safety and Environmental Training Center states most heat injuries can be avoided by simply drinking 8-16 cups of water each day, eating a well-balanced diet and getting at least six hours of rest every 24-hour period.
Damage Controlman 1st Class Mykel Cruz says heat stress is something that can be difficult to recognize for someone who has never experienced it. Cruz personally experienced a heat-stress injury while attending a firefighting course simulator.
"I had a very junior team with me," said Cruz. "Me being a DC1, I tried to take the lead, but I wasn't getting the support I needed when I was on the nozzle. It was hard to communicate that, in the space in that situation with all the gear on. I was down there for 12 to 15 minutes more than I needed to be. I definitely didn't drink enough fluids. I tried to leave through the exit, and an instructor opened the door and let me get a breath of fresh air. Then asked me to leave the space. I was embarrassed, but it was too late."
Sailors have to educate themselves when it comes to heat stress, added Cruz. How much water should I be drinking hourly? What type of environment am I going to be in? If Sailors don't understand heat stress, they can not only compromise their safety, but the teams as well.
Truman is deployed as part of an ongoing rotation of U.S. forces supporting maritime security operations in international waters around the globe.
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