Heat warning issued by Dallas health officials as heat deaths rise

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by DEBBIE DENMON

WFAA

Posted on August 1, 2011 at 12:43 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 1 at 6:31 PM

DALLAS - The Dallas County Health and Human Services Department has seen a huge increase in calls, averaging 300 calls a day, many need help paying their electric bills or getting an AC unit that works.

Having a working air conditioner is important, since there have been 173 cases of heat exhaustion and 20 heat strokes in Dallas county since the month of May.

Some of those heat cases have already turned deadly. To date there have been nine heat-related deaths in Dallas County and two of the deceased had no working air conditioner units in their homes. 

The health department called a press conference Monday morning to talk about the deceased whose ages ranged from 40 to 90-years-old. The majority of them did have other medical problems.

"If you know someone is living in your community without an AC unit, you can assist them," Dr Thompson said. "You don’t have to call Dallas Co. Health and Human Services.  Reach out to your neighbors."

Thompson said since May they have handed out 400 free air conditioners thanks to the help of four local foundations in Dallas who have given them more than $130,000.  

The Health department is also assisting folks who are from low socioeconomic backgrounds and need help paying their electric bills. 

News 8 caught Thompson and several of his staff members installing air conditioners for an elderly woman who had heart problems and for a woman who had no working air conditioner unit in her home for one year. 

"I couldn’t afford it and I don’t like to ask for help. I just keep to myself," said Brenda Duncan. 

She and her husband were living in a dangerously hot home. Thompson used a thermometer and we were shocked that it registered at 102 degrees in Duncan’s home. 

"It’s been real hot," Duncan said. "I wake up and I be so hot I be sweating, so I get on up and go over to my mom’s house." 

Dr. Steven Harris said extreme heat is the number one weather-related cause of death. 

"It kills more people than floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes," said Dr. Harris. "Heat strokes are so dangerous. The body temperature can get up to 106 degrees. When the body stops sweating and this happens, people need emergency medical treatment and they don’t always survive."

The Dallas County Health and Human Services department does not want a repeat of 1998.  That is when 35 heat-related deaths occurred in Dallas County. 

Department officials warn that fans do not protect individuals in their homes once the temperature is more than 90 degrees outside and the humidity is above 34 percent. 

Dr. Harris cautioned residents to be mindful of heat hazards, such as sun burn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Stay indoors if you can and wear loose-fitting light clothing and drink plenty of fluids during the extreme heat. Also avoid exercise in the warmest part of the day.

You can call the heat emergency hotline at 214-819-6001 at the Dallas County Health and Human Services office if you have no working AC unit in your home or if you need assistance paying electric bills. 

Be prepared for a busy signal and some referrals. 

"We are just one of 15 agencies that can help with electric bills," Dr. Thompson said. "Residents should also call their electric provider to access assistant programs.  We only have 500 AC units left.  So, I’m challenging churches, civic groups, and neighbors to check on neighbors.  The elderly, people with medical issues, and children are the most vulnerable."

Apartment complex residents with no heat are encouraged to call their city, because that can be addressed by the code enforcement department. 

Call 9-1-1 if you see children or pets left unattended in hot cars.

 Email: ddenmon@wfaa.com

 

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