Wobser and Bender

Mike Wobser is the fire marshal for the Casa Grande Fire Department. Martha Bender is the fire prevention officer. They both offer safety tips for weathering the summer heat.

Mike Wobser and Martha Bender are desert rats.

Wobser grew up in Arizona, in Tempe and Scottsdale. Bender was born and raised in southern Arizona. Her husband’s family settled in Tucson some seven generations ago.

So, yes, they know heat. They know summer. They know even desert rats need to stay hydrated. They know that goes for the rest of us, too.

Especially the very young and senior citizens.

But all you guys in between, they know you can’t get complacent. Heat can kill.

Nothing new here. Rodney Haas, writing for PinalCentral, detailed the common symptoms of heat exhaustion in a June 12 article. He quoted experts on tips for staying cool and avoiding those annoying heat-related symptoms. He had lots of good summer-heat stats.

Wobser and Bender are also here to help. They do outreach to keep people safe. That includes tips on how to make it through summer without baking, collapsing or worse.

They work for the Casa Grande Fire Department. Wobser is the fire marshal. He describes his job as two-fold. He makes sure new and existing buildings are up to code. The fire code, that is.

The other part deals with educating the public on fire prevention. And how to live with summer heat. His colleague, Bender, is all about fire prevention and safety herself. It’s in her job title: fire prevention officer.

“We’re responsible for the public education,” Wobser said. “Whether it’s heat-related injuries and illness, we have campaigns to go out and educate the public on that.”

If they do their job right, the fire crews will have less to do. I picture them sitting around, playing cards and waiting for some old guy like me to collapse on Casa Grande Mountain. But thanks to Wobser and Bender, the old guy got the message. He’s fine. He took plenty of water. Or just stayed indoors.

Of course, somebody will always need rescuing. Fires will always need quenching. So I wouldn’t worry about Wobser and Bender putting first responders out of a job anytime soon.

Still, they won’t give up trying.

Wobser started with the Casa Grande Fire Department a year and a half ago, after retiring from the Air Force. He spent his entire 22-year Air Force career as an active-duty firefighter. He pretty much traveled the world. His assignments took him to Hawaii, England, the Middle East and points in between.

Bender joined the department four years ago. She was hired, in good part, for her work as an educator. She’s taught everything from preschool to community college.

I spoke to them a week ago Monday, from Wobser’s office on Val Vista Boulevard. The high that day would be 103. Quite doable for your average desert rat. But people being people, even desert rats take unnecessary risks. And the heat doesn’t distinguish.

“People that have been here in Arizona for years and years and years think they’re tough,” Wobser said. “Think they’re acclimated … and sometimes stretch their limits.”

Bender chimed in.

“I think that people don’t go into situations prepared,” she said. “They go hiking in flipflops.”

And then there’s the classic summer blunder — not taking enough water. Sometimes you need more than enough. One woman recently fell while hiking and broke her leg, Bender said. She apparently planned ahead. She had water and kept herself hydrated as she waited for paramedics.

Bender has a formula for how much water you need. Take your body weight in pounds, divide by two. Convert that into ounces. That’s what you should take for an outing. So at 150 pounds, you get 75 ounces. That equals a little more than half a gallon of water, if my math is correct. And it should be. I looked it up online.

Next, we spoke about the tragedy of a car with kids or pets locked inside.

“We actually have a program here in Casa Grande called ‘too hot for tots,’” Wobser said.

Bender handed me a decal that says just that. You put it on the inside of the driver’s window, she said.

“The decal is to remind you, always look in the back seat,” Bender said. “We highly discourage anyone leaving a child, even for one minute.”

Pets, same thing.

I looked up some closed-car stats. Here’s a quote attributed to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “When temperatures outside range from 80 degrees to 100 degrees, the temperature inside a car parked in direct sunlight can quickly climb to between 130 to 172.”

So it doesn’t take 110 degrees for the worst to happen.

Fortunately, people are getting the message, Wobser and Bender said. They couldn’t remember any locked-car calls — save one, Bender added. A baby was left in a car seat for up to 20 minutes. The child recovered at the hospital.

You can get your own window sticker by calling Bender at 520-421-8777.

Paramedics often respond to calls for dizziness. One cause might be heat. Fire department first responders are prepared. If somebody’s outdoors, they might just need some shade. And water. For somebody acutely dehydrated, paramedics can start fluids intravenously. A trip to the hospital might be in order.

On a summer afternoon, asphalt can reach frying-pan temperatures. A person knocked to the street might need to be treated for burns.

Wobser and Bender ended with a few tips. Limit outside work like gardening to the early morning. It’s coolest between 4 and 7 a.m. Otherwise, wait until early evening, before sunset.

Wear light, loose clothing and a hat. Put on sunscreen. And, don’t forget, drink plenty of water.

Interview finished, I headed back to my car. I found a half-full bottle of water. It was warm. No matter. All that talk made me thirsty. I emptied the bottle.

Hydration never felt so good.


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Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at bccoates@cox.net.


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