Sgt. David Williams speaks for many of the firefighters at Augusta Station No. 8 when he says summer is the hardest time of year.
“These months aren’t easy,” said Williams, a Glenn Hills High School graduate. “We have to stay in shape. We have to stay hydrated. Most of all, we have a responsibility to our family and the citizens of Augusta to perform our best each and every day.”
Despite the high temperatures, Augusta’s 335 firefighters stay cloaked in three layers – and up to 80 pounds – of breathing equipment and protective uniforms.
The outer layer is fire resistant. The middle layer is used as a moisture barrier. The inner layer is quilted thermal.
Two summers ago, Williams arrived at a Harrisburg structure fire unfit to battle a three-hour blaze.
“It’s been more than two years, but I still remember that day,” Williams said. “I wasn’t anywhere near my best.”
No lives were lost, but the incident was a wake-up call.
The 29-year-old father of two has grown to realize the importance of hydration, especially in Richmond County’s summer heat.
Captain Greg Hartshorne says he has witnessed multiple members of his staff suffer from nausea and heat exhaustion.
“Heat stress and excursion that our firefighters are dealing with is a very real concern,” Hartshorne said. “At a typical structure fire, the roof reaches 1,000 degrees … Combine that with summer temperatures, and it’s not easy. With that being said, our 19 stations are determined to keep fighting and give everything we have to this community.”
Hartshorne stresses that firefighters spend no more than 20 minutes engaging a blaze before replenishing fluids.
“I want to make one thing clear to the public,” Hartshorne said. “When people see our firefighters sitting around during a fire, this isn’t because they’re lazy or don’t want to work. This is what we’re trained to do. Spending 15 to 20 minutes fighting a blaze in full gear is incredibly intense and requires time to rehabilitate before getting ready for the next round of battle.”
At a June 26 fire at Fogel’s Fine Floors on Washington Road, crews responded around 3 p.m. and finally deemed the situation safe just before midnight.
Forty-eight firefighters were called on scene and seven businesses were evacuated.
“Fires in strip malls, like the incident at (Fogel’s Fine Floors), take a really long time because there are so many places it can spread,” Hartshorne said. “Being in the heat for 12 hours isn’t an easy task, but, like I tell everyone, the biggest key is hydration, hydration, hydration.”
For Williams, the mission to replenish fluids begins at home, then carries over to Station No. 8.
“She may do it subconsciously, but my wife (Yanitza) worries more this time of year,” Williams said. “She does. When I’m home, she’s always handing me bottles of water and Gatorade. I realize it’s a little thing, but that means a lot. It takes a team effort to get through these months, and with my family at home and my family at Station 8, I’m fortunate to have a great team around me.”