Special Vests Help Rocklin Firefighters Cool Off Faster

ROCKLIN -- When the temperature outside hits triple digits, fighting fires becomes an even more dangerous job.

Heat stroke, exhaustion and especially cardiac arrest all are heightened dangers for the men and women on the front lines.

The city, however, has outfitted their firefighters with cutting-edge technology aimed at lowering body temperatures and thus reducing the stress on those involved in protecting the public.

"Cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the fire service," explained firefighter Jerry Dolley. "The heat is a stressor, and it's one of those things that we can eliminate or at least reduce."

The Rocklin Fire Department has been using cooling vests to keep the body temperatures of firefighters at safe levels. The vests pump ice water through little tubes about a quarter-inch thick, attacking the core of the body to cool it down drastically. But its main focus is recovery time, which it cuts down by almost one-third.

"Basically, we immerse the body. We cover about 40 percent of the body with ice cold water," said Dolley. "We are able to reduce the time in rehab for the firefighters by 28 percent."

For the men and women who fight fires, they are generally pulled off the line to undergo 20 minutes of recovery. In the past, that time only consisted of sitting in a chair, using a cool rag and drinking water. But now, the vests not only provide extra relief, they can also save lives.

"It wraps your core, it drops your temperature," stressed Dolley. "There is an effect there. You avoid all the cramping, and the spasms and all that stuff. We'll monitor their vital signs before they come into rehab, and then as they go out of rehab just to get a baseline and make sure they are stable."

It's a tool that allows firefighters to go back to the line quicker and more refreshed.

The department only has five cooling vests and each kit costs $5,000, but administrators believe they are worth every penny.

"It's more of a luxury than anything else," said Dolley.

Luxury or not, it's doing the job, and other fire departments across the state are taking notice.