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Howard officials urge safety precaution during heat wave

Howard officials urge safety precaution during heat wave
Howard Community College students Isabelle Cruz (left) and Erin Bowman (right) take a break from class Monday to eat lunch and study outside. Bowman said she "kind of" likes the heat, as long she's in the shade. Cruz said, "It's hot." (Lisa Philip / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

With temperatures in the high 90s and a heat index as high as 106 degrees, many who live and work in Howard County are taking precautions to stay cool Monday in the scorching summer weather.

Temperatures in the mid-90s are forecasted through the week, according to the National Weather Service, with weekend temperatures reaching 90 degrees. Officials say Maryland's current heat wave may be the Mid-Atlantic's longest since 2012, after breaking 100 degrees on July 18, 2012 as recorded by Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

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County government spokesman Mark Miller said Howard's 50+ Centers and library branches are perfect places to cool down.

Linh Bui, Marty Bass and Marcus Washington have more.

"Libraries are the facilities that are the primary cooling centers in the county, but if anyone comes to one of our community centers to cool off, they are welcome," added Anne Hunter, spokeswoman for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks. "Our camps provide water filling stations through water fountains and coolers."

Fire department Battalion Chief Stephen Hardesty said he encourages all residents to stay hydrated and out of the sun, if possible, and to recognize any signs of heat exhaustion, including extreme weakness, muscle cramps, nausea, headache, vomiting or fainting and dry red skin.

Over the last few days, the department has seen a slight increase in EMS calls related to heat illness, Hardesty said, while responders also take necessary precautions.

"We've increased the number of apparatus that we send to working incidents, working fires and stuff like that," Hardesty said. "Particularly, we're sending our decontamination unit from special operations and our medical ambulance bus. Both of them are large areas where people can go in, sit down and get in the air-conditioned area of rehab."

Although the department has used MTA buses in the past for air conditioning on-site, Hardesty said both the decontamination unit and medical ambulance bus are more feasible, providing residents and responders with a cool environment, drinks and snacks.

The department also issued a yellow flag advisory Monday morning, limiting responders' outside activity. Hardesty said a red flag advisory was then issued around 11 a.m., canceling all outdoor activities other than any given emergencies.

"We usually build hot days into our daily routine," he said. "But lately, because of the heat wave and this canopy effect, we've had several of them, days in a row, where it's becoming a big issue. We don't usually get five or six of them back-to-back."

In the midst of the heat wave, spokesman David Greisman said Columbia Association's 23 outdoor pools — some open as early as 5:30 a.m. — and two indoor pools at Columbia Gym and Supreme Sports Club – both open until 10 p.m. – are available for cooling off, with admission fees.

Columbia Association is also reminding its lifeguards to watch for any symptoms of heat-related illnesses, said Marty Oltmanns, acting aquatics director.

Leslie Barnett, Columbia Association's assistant director of community services, said all programs have code red days to make way for other plans during extreme heat and storms.

"When it's this hot, we make sure not to keep the kids outside as much," Barnett said. "We have them drink extra water, and we bus them to the pools and/or to their after-care locations rather than have them walk."

In Laurel, Parks and Recreation Director Joanne Barr said Monday's pool hours have been extended to 9 p.m., with a cooling station available at the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center, operated by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

"On Friday, we actually had an early opening and a late closure," Barr said. "Today, we're just going with the late closure because it's our cleaning day and we still want to be able to get in and clean the facility."

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But, some people don't mind the heat. At Howard Community College, students Isabelle Cruz and Erin Bowman took a break from their classes Monday to eat lunch and study outside.

"I like the heat," Bowman said. "As long as I'm in the shade."

However, both students agreed that temperatures were hot on Monday.

While temperatures continue to rise, county officials ask residents to stay safe in the heat, following the provided tips: Drink water and caffeine-free liquids, alcoholic beverages do not keep you hydrated; wear light-colored, light-weight, loose-fitting clothing, a hat and sunscreen; Take frequent rest breaks in air-conditioned or shaded environments; check on elderly friends, family and neighbors; and never leave children or pets unattended in a parked car or other hot environment.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Lisa Philip and Baltimore Sun reporter Wyatt Massey contributed to this story.

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