MEDITERRANEAN SEA —
The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman’s alarm system announces general quarters.
It’s another damage control drill, and the Truman’s crew head to their stations.
Then, for one sailor, everything goes black.
“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,” Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Abbey Escamilla said.
“My face was red. I was trying to talk, but I couldn’t,” she added. “I had to be seated, just so I could calm down my breathing.”
With three years of experience aboard the Truman, Escamilla said she’s experienced countless drills and witnessed shipmates fall out due to heat stress. But, she never expected to experience it herself.
‘I Wasn’t Hydrated Enough’
“I was aware of what was going on, but my problem was I wasn’t hydrated enough,” Escamilla said. “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 types of heat injuries: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. With the Truman’s 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 Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher McCarthy, a hospital corpsman.
Proper hydration cannot be emphasized enough, McCarthy said. Something as simple as drinking a bottle of water can save your life, he said.
“You can drink energy drinks, soda and coffee, but you should supplement that with at least two liters of water a day,” McCarthy said.
In 2017, there were a total of 2,163 cases of heat illness among active-duty service members, according to the Defense Health Agency. From 2013-2017, there were 10,458 heat-related illnesses diagnosed at more than 250 military installations and geographic locations worldwide.
Ways to Help Avoid Heat Stress Injuries
The Naval Safety and Environmental Training Center states that most heat injuries can be avoided by simply drinking 8-16 cups of water a day, eating a well-balanced diet and getting at least six hours of rest every 24-hour period.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Mykel Cruz says heat stress is something that can be difficult to recognize for someone who has never experienced it. Cruz said he experienced a heat stress injury during a firefighting training session.
“I had a very junior team with me,” Cruz said. “Me, being a damage controlman, I tried to take the lead. It was hard to communicate 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 he asked me to leave the space. I was embarrassed, but it was too late.”
Sailors need to be aware of the possibility of heat stress injury, Cruz said.
“If sailors don’t understand heat stress, they not only compromise their safety, but their team’s, as well,” he said.