Home Featured Stay Alert to the Threat of Hypothermia during This Winter’s Frigid Temperatures

Stay Alert to the Threat of Hypothermia during This Winter’s Frigid Temperatures

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest

With the thermometer hovering near 15 degrees on Monday, more than 1,000 undaunted members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club took part in the annual New Year’s Day plunge, the New York Daily News reported.

Other area plunges were cancelled because of the unusually bitter cold weather, including two in New Jersey.

John McDonagh, 63, of Middle Village, Queens, came with 20 relatives and friends. It was their 10th year together taking a winter’s dip. “This is by far the coldest day,” he told the Daily News. “We came down anyway.”

Some of the swimmers wore dinosaur or penguin outfits. Others wore nothing but underwear or bathing suits for this New York tradition that began in 1903. "Twenty-eighteen! The only way to start is in that cold water," Brooklyn resident Rosalia Perotta told CBS New York.

The Coney Island club is the oldest winter bathing organization in the country. Proceeds from the annual plunge go to Camp Sunshine, an organization for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Even with McDonagh’s 21 swimmers, this year’s participants fell some 1,500 short of last year’s 2,500 bathers, as Coney Islanders were labeled years ago when two-piece swim garments were all the rage. The decline in numbers could be attributed to a couple of factors:

1) The 2017 plunge attracted a larger crowd because the temperature was a balmy 50 degrees.

2) This year’s no-shows were collectively 1.5 times smarter than this year’s Polar Bears.

Lifeguards and Emergency Workers Were on Hand to Protect Swimmers

“We do have lifeguards here, there are some emergency workers. We have a whole crew of volunteers, so we’re going to keep our eyes out make sure everyone stays safe,” Josh Kalin, a member of the Polar Bear Club, told CBS New York.

Plunging into near-freezing water is no joke. An eight-year-old boy in Utah was rescued after falling into a frozen pond on Christmas.

A sheriff’s deputy, Aaron Thompson, rescued the boy by punching and stomping his way through the ice, and then plunging into the water to look for the boy. Rescuers believe the boy was in the frigid water for about 30 minutes.

The boy was airlifted to an area hospital. He had vital signs leaving the scene, but was not conscious or alert. After a few days’ stay in a hospital, the boy was released and sent home.

Thompson was also treated for hypothermia as well as lacerations on his hands and arms from cutting through the ice.

Hypothermia Requires Immediate Medical Attention

Hypothermia – when your body's temperature drops to dangerously low levels – is no joke. Even a three-degree drop in body temperature is hazardous.

The medical site WebMD lists several steps to take when someone comes down with hypothermia from exposure to very low temperatures:

1. Call 911 if You Suspect Hypothermia

Symptoms include:

  • Confusion, memory loss or slurred speech
  • Drop in body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Exhaustion or drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Numb hands or feet
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shivering

In infants, symptoms include:

  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy level

2. Restore Warmth Slowly

  • Get the person indoors.
  • Remove wet clothing and dry the person off, if needed.
  • Warm the person's trunk first, not the hands and feet. Warming extremities first can cause shock.
  • Warm the person by wrapping him or her in blankets or putting dry clothing on the person.
  • Do not immerse the person in warm water. Rapid warming can cause heart arrhythmia.
  • If you’re using hot water bottles or chemical hot packs, wrap them in cloth. Don't apply them directly to the victim’s skin.

3. Begin CPR, if Necessary, while Warming the Person

If the person is not breathing, start CPR immediately. Hypothermia causes respiratory rates to plunge, and a pulse might be difficult to detect.

  • For a child, start CPR for children.
  • For an adult, start adult CPR.
  • Continue CPR until the person begins breathing or emergency help arrives.

4. Give Warm Fluids

  • Give the person a warm drink, if he or she is conscious. Avoid caffeine or alcohol.

5. Keep Victim’s Body Temperature Up

  • Once the body temperature begins to rise, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket. Wrap the person's head and neck, as well.

6. Follow Up

  • At the hospital, health care providers will continue warming efforts, including providing intravenous fluids and warm, moist oxygen.
Start a Emergency & Disaster Management degree at American Military University.

David Hubler David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. In March 2017, Rowman & Littlefield published the paperback edition of David’s latest book, "The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation's Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever."