July 3, 2013

With the Fourth of July weekend upon us, area residents are gearing up for all kinds of summer activities. Whether you’re enjoying the river or picnic in the park, here are some tips to keep you and your family safe and cool this summer.

Water Safety

When the weather gets hot, many Portlanders head to the river to cool off. Although the cold water can be refreshing, fast-moving currents in the Willamette, Sandy and Columbia rivers can also be dangerous. The Oregon State Marine Board has some things to keep in mind before jumping in the water:

Avoid sudden entry into frigid waters and wear a wetsuit or personal floatation device: The crisp Pacific Northwest waters can be colder than expected, so swimming or diving may result in cold water shock, one of the main causes of drownings every year.

Make sure your boat is working properly and has the appropriate safety equipment: Boats should be equipped with enough floatation devices for everyone aboard, and the law requires children younger than 12 years old to wear a life jacket. You should have a whistle or horn to signal for help and a throwable device such as a life ring for rescue. Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated along with sunblock, and a fire extinguisher for motorized boats.

Boating and alcohol are a deadly combination, and you can face fines of up to $6,250 and a year in jail for boating under the influence if you have a blood alcohol level higher than .08 percent.

Food Safety

Summer is a great time for picnics with family and friends, but warm temperatures promote bacteria growth. If your food isn’t handled properly in the heated outdoors, you can be at risk for foodborne illnesses.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends you keep your food fresh and cold by packing it in a cooler with ice or gel packs, while hot food should be kept hot in an insulated container. Use clean utensils, cook food thoroughly, wash your hands, and keep food covered from insects to avoid contamination and bacteria.

Heat Safety

Hot summer weather can put anyone at risk for heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Older adults, infants and children, and people with chronic medical conditions are particularly at risk of heat-related illnesses. They all should receive extra attention during the summer months.

Overheating can place a dangerous strain on the heart, and can worsen other medical conditions. Prescription drugs can also make a person more vulnerable to heat, so consult a healthcare provider or pharmacist for advice during hot weather.

Everyone can protect themselves by drinking more water, regardless of your activity. Stay out of the sun and in shade or air-conditioned spaces as much as possible. Wearing light clothes and taking cool baths or showers can help keep the heat manageable.

Be on the lookout for warning signs of heatstroke and heat exhaustion. These can include dizziness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, breathing problems, dry skin (no sweating), chest pain, extreme weakness, mental changes (confusion), throbbing headaches and vomiting.

If temperatures get hot enough, cooling centers are available for seniors to have access to a welcoming air-conditioned space. To find out more, call 2-1-1, or call the Multnomah County Aging & Disability Services Hotline at 503-988-3683.