In the District, fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer said Thursday night that he expected the department would transport more than 300 people to area hospitals by midnight, with the “vast majority” suffering from such heat-related afflictions as heatstroke, exhaustion and dehydration.
It was the start of a run of dangerous weather that would divide the area into two groups: the merely uncomfortable and the truly vulnerable.
Before Elnorah Jordan left her house in Anacostia, she made sure she had her ID. She suffers from asthma, HIV and high blood pressure and was worried about the potential consequences of a 20-minute walk to a health-care center. What if she fainted and a stranger found her?
“I don’t want to be a Jane Doe,” said Jordan, 37.
Throughout the region, emergency officials reported an increase in heat-related illnesses. In Prince George’s County, emergency medical services officials said they had seen an increase of 15 to 20 percent in medical calls, including reports of fainting, dizziness and headaches. In Arlington County, rescue crews increased their fleet of ambulances from seven to nine to handle the calls.
Mental health centers also prepared to handle patients, some with medications that can have different effects in extreme temperatures, said Millicent West, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.
At Children’s National Medical Center, Stephen Teach, associate chief of emergency medicine, said the staff had discussed what to expect because of the extreme temperatures and made sure it had plenty of equipment on hand, including fans and ice. Infants, he said, are the most vulnerable to overheating, and older children can face the risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
“The best way to manage heat-related illness is to prevent it,” Teach said. The heat wave also highlights what doctors cannot prevent or treat: Patients might leave the hospital only to return to a home where there is no air conditioning or electricity.
That’s where Health Leads, a program run out of Children’s, picks up. On Thursday, there were double the number of volunteers on hand: four young women in matching blue shirts, one still in high school and the rest in college, sat waiting to greet families that might walk in. On Wednesday, a woman and her mother came in with an infant and a 6-year-old, wanting only to sit in the office because they had no air conditioning at home.