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Don Carter State Park rangers on patrol

Men and women watch out for guests while they are outside

POSTED: August 5, 2014 1:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Don Carter State Park Manager Will Wagner patrols the park during a normal weekday when crowds are smaller than weekends.

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Will Wagner spends his days on the beach, under shady trees and riding around in nature. Sounds like a walk in the park, and for Wagner it is, literally.

Wagner is the manager at Don Carter State Park. And his and the other park rangers’ goal is to protect themselves and the public from heat exhaustion, dehydration and other summer dangers.

“We spend the majority of our day, around 12 to 13 hours, on our on-duty shift,” Wagner said. “We spend about two-thirds of it outside, some on foot, some on the beach talking to guests, and we see if anyone is getting dehydrated or anything like that.”

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “moderate to high air temperature, particularly with high humidity, direct sun exposure, heavy vapor-barrier clothing, and lack of adequate water, rest periods or cooling off conditions all contribute to environmental heat stress.” All of these can occur at Don Carter State Park, both for the rangers and guests. Therefore, Wagner knows being smart about the heat is crucial to his health and the health of the guests.

“All of the park rangers here at Don Carter State Park, and many throughout the state, are search-and-rescue trained rangers and wilderness first responders,” Wagner said. “That trains us a lot on the early signs of heatstroke, heat exhaustion and just general dehydration.”

Dr. Teresa George of Northeast Georgia Physicians Group in Oakwood emphasized people underestimate the amount of fluid the body uses.

“Every 20 minutes, those in hot environments should drink a little water,” she said. “People underestimate how much fluid they lose just through breathing. Six to eight glasses a day is about average to stay hydrated.”

She also noted those who work hot jobs may be able to withstand the heat more because their bodies are acclimated to it.

“The body has to get used to a different environment,” she said. “I tell people when they go on vacation, it’s not good to jump outside into 100-degree weather and do a lot of vigorous activity.”

Because of their extensive training and adjustment to the hot environment, Don Carter State Park rangers can survive the long days and attend to anyone in the park who needs assistance.

“I carry a bottle of water,” Wagner said. “And on hot days, we keep a cooler of water in the truck so we can rehydrate anyone we see exhibiting signs of dehydration.”

The rangers encourage people to take breaks in the shade or stay cool in the water. They also try to stay out of the direct sun as well, which is something George emphasized, since “the body can only handle so much heat exposure.”

“Usually in a state park, there’s a shade tree,” Wagner said with a laugh. “We try to do the most exhausting tasks in the early morning or late evening. We plan out our day and make sure we have priorities in place.”

He emphasized although working in a state park with shade and water is an advantage to someone who works constantly in full sun or next to radiant heat on a blacktop, staying hydrated is the absolute No. 1 rule for beating the heat.

“You don’t want to catch up for lost time and consume a large amount or water in a short time,” Wagner said. “We try and remind folks to stay hydrated, and that reminder to take care of themselves goes a long way.”

For those who have begun to exhibit signs of heat fatigue, such as redness in the face, extreme sweating and confusion, the rangers can easily supply water and help the person cool down.

“The hottest part of the park is the beach,” Wagner said. “It has the lake right next to it, so we can cool them down pretty quickly in the water and remove them from direct heat.”

The next step is to have the person drink water or a sports drink, but not too quickly.

However, prevention is the best method to stay safe, according to the rangers.

“The body is made to consume water, and it’s amazing what drinking water will do,” Wagner said. “It will give you more energy, help you enjoy the recreational pursuits and just feel better along with keeping yourself from getting hurt.”



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