While most Canadians consider cold-weather safety a simple matter of heading to Cuba from roughly mid-November to early May, there are less disruptive ways to ensure that extreme cold doesn’t cause issues. We’d like to thank Michael Carr, our resident First-Aid and CPR instructor, for the excellent advice contained in this article.
Those living in the Toronto area were profoundly disturbed by the recent deaths of two three-year olds who were left outside, unattended, for several hours. Though not as highly publicized, many homeless persons die every winter on account of exposure as well, and this year is no different.
Important considerations when travelling in extremely cold environments include the fact that victims of intensely hot or cold weather must be removed from the extreme environment, and should a person’s body temperature have dropped too low, he/she must be warmed up gradually. Only in cases of overheating must a person be cooled rapidly. Otherwise, slow and steady is the best approach. Similarly, when fingers, toes, noses, or ears are frostbitten, they should be warmed gradually. The image that many of us have of rubbing warmth back into frozen body-parts is not an appropriate approach – it can actually damage frozen skin. Speaking of frozen skin, it will appear waxen and drained of colour. Black-coloured frostbitten skin is an indication of skin death. In conditions of extreme cold, frostbite can set in within ten to twenty minutes. Responders must always base First-Aid decisions on the length and severity of exposure.
Someone showing signs of hypothermia who is found without vital signs should be checked for breathing for a full forty-five seconds (as opposed to ten seconds) during CPR. How does one recognize severe hypothermia? You may witness slurred speech, slowed motor skills, confusion, slow or laboured breathing, unconsciousness, hallucinations, and/or (oddly enough) a lack of shivering. This lack of shivering is actually an indication that the body cannot warm itself.
If you come across someone who has been exposed to the elements and is in wet or damp clothing, this clothing should be removed and replaced with warm, dry apparel. This includes underwear and socks.
As for how to prevent hypothermia from occurring in the first place, a common-sense approach applies. Dress appropriately for the weather; dress in layers. Cotton closest to the skin and waterproof outer layers are best. Warm socks that are changed regularly are important, as are proper gloves, a toque, and a scarf. Warm, waterproof boots are an absolute necessity. On bitterly cold days, no matter how “insulated” you are, limit exposure to no more than twenty minutes at a time. Drinking warm fluids is essentially protection from the inside.
While a down-filled jacket isn’t a substitute for an extended trip south in the winter, the above guidelines are nonetheless critical to remember. Given that it has actually been colder in Ontario on certain days over the past few weeks than it is on the moon, please take the necessary steps to prevent situations of weather-related illness.
The Academy Team