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Summer weather warrants extra caution

By Cpl. J. Oliver Johnson | | March 25, 2004

Although the calendar marks this time of year as spring, it's considered summer in Yuma, which means that season's fun and dangers are just as present as the sun's heat.

The biggest factor in increased danger is the rapid increase in heat in previous weeks, which draws more people to outdoor activities such as boating and camping.

"Traffic is still the number one off-duty killer of Marines," said Phil Bender, station traffic and recreation safety specialist. "During the summer, driving is a big problem. Even at night, it can still get up to 90 degrees throughout Arizona and New Mexico."

This heat, combined with the darkness of night, can lead to drowsiness while driving. Even if drivers can manage to stay awake on the road, drowsy driving can lead to simple mistakes that can have deadly consequences.

"When people go on trips, they might venture onto unfamiliar roads," explained Bender. "But even on roads that they know well, they can still misjudge a curve in the road."

Bender advises anyone planning a trip to have their vehicle thoroughly inspected and packed with plenty of extra drinking water and a first aid kit before the journey begins.

Another area where increased traffic is a concern is on the water.

"There's a higher concentration of people on the water during the summer time," Bender explained. "There's a lot of people who go out to the rivers and lakes to jet-ski, boat or just float down river on tubes. It's not uncommon to have about 40 or 50 thousand people on about a 25-mile stretch of river."

And even with the inherent dangers that come with aquatic recreation, some choose not to follow the laws that are in place for safety.

Arizona state law requires all boats to carry personal flotation devices for everyone onboard, and children under the age of 12 are required to wear them any time the boat is underway. Large boats are required to have at least one throwable PFD, as well.

Water-skiers and riders of personal water craft, such as jet-skis, are also required to wear PFDs.

On land, however, the danger shifts from water dangers to one of another nature: fire.

"Especially with people camping, fire hazards are a big problem in the summer," said Bender. "Even small camp fires can have hot embers coming out, and something as simple as flicking a cigarette butt can cause a fire."

The natural environment where most people choose to camp and enjoy the outdoors is drier in the summer, making for much more of a fire hazard.

Likewise, the human body is also subject to damage caused by the extreme conditions.

According to the American Red Cross' website, www.redcross.org/services/hss/sumsafety/ simple measures can be taken to beat the heat.

By wearing lightweight, light-colored clothing and hats, drinking plenty of water, eating often and taking plenty of breaks from physical activity, the effects of the sun can be minimized on the body.

While sun block is something that is often not used enough in the summer, another ever-present substance is often a factor in summer injury and death.

"If you spend your afternoon drinking alcohol when it's hot outside, you can have more judgement lapses, which can lead to mishaps, as well," said Bender.

On top of impairing judgement, which can lead to traffic accidents whether on the road or the water, alcohol dehydrates the body and makes it more susceptible to heat-related injuries, such as heat stress and heat stroke.

"The body has a hard time getting enough water by pulling it out of beer," Bender explained.

Whether the activity involves a long drive to a weekend on the water or something as simple as a backyard barbecue, one thing that can help save lives is the presence of a solid plan.

Operational Risk management should be just as important off-duty as it is on-duty," Bender warned. "Make a plan, just as you would for any Marine Corps mission. Try to imagine anything that could go wrong, and plan accordingly for it."

Even for those without a plan, Bender offers advice that should be simple, yet life-saving.

"Just use common sense out there," he said. "If it seems wrong or dangerous, it probably is."

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