NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The summer in Las Vegas is not quite here yet, but the days of consecutive triple digit temperatures are fast approaching. Soon, school will be done for the year and the long lazy days of summer will begin for the children here. With the start of the summer season come added threats to the children of service members.
Las Vegas’ summer heat presents a health risk to children, and the drastic increase in their free time presents a risk to their safety and security.
The average temperature here for June through August sits at approximately 102 degrees Fahrenheit. There is an idea that because it is a dry heat it is somehow less powerful. No matter the type of heat, dry or humid, 102 degrees is dangerous.
The most common summer time injury for children here is sunburn, said Maj. (Dr.) Jeremy Granger, 99th Medical Operations Squadron pediatric element chief.
Sometimes people forget to put sunscreen on their infant’s legs when they are in a stroller, Granger said. The burns can get bad, to [the point] where they blister and skin starts to peel off. Sunburns that happen to children can also increase their risk of skin cancer later in life. The earlier a child gets a sun burn, the higher the risk.
The sun is the biggest health hazard to children, not only because of the burns but also because of the heat.
“For infants, try to avoid direct sunlight,” Granger said. “Dress them in light-weight clothing with [ultraviolet] protection. Children in strollers are not going to have the opportunity to cool themselves. If parents are feeling hot their [children] are probably feeling even hotter. If they are going to be outside, put some sunscreen on them, at least SPF 15 and make sure they stay hydrated.”
Grade-school age children have an ability to cool themselves off in much the same way as adults. Infants do not. They don’t sweat the same way adults do, and they produce less sweat because they have different sweat glands.
“Heat injury is more dangerous for a child than an adult,” Granger said. “They have fewer reserves. As adults, we have a greater understanding when something is wrong with us. Children don’t give you much warning before they are in danger.”
The highest body temperatures the doctor has seen are a result of children being out too long in the summer heat. There have been children who have had temperatures of more than 106 F, which can cause them to go into a seizure. Brain damage is likely at those body temperatures.
Pool and bicycle related injuries are also common in the summer time. The most important thing a parent can do is to supervise his or her children.
“We don’t get near drowning at the clinic, but we talk about it [with the parents] at every visit,” Granger said. “If you have a pool, we recommend a gated fence to keep your children safe. Even kiddy-pools; children have drowned in less than a foot of water. Get involved and supervise your children.”
The summer months increase other risks to children as well.
One of the biggest risks for children would be safety on the streets with children not wearing or improperly wearing personal protective equipment.
“If the helmet is just lightly resting on their head, it’s not going to be able to do much,” said Master Sgt. James Ashby, 99th Security Forces Squadron.
“During the summer months, we have more children out and about at varying times on the streets,” Ashby said. “There is going to be more pedestrian traffic and children have a tendency to not use cross-walks. People need to abide by the speed limits, 15 mph may seem a little stringent but it is there for a reason.”
“If they are on bikes or something with wheels, make sure they wear safety equipment,” Granger said. “Your children may be great at riding a bike, but you can’t account for other factors. Just yesterday, in my neighborhood, we had to call the [police] because a driver went up on to the curb and almost hit some children walking home from school.”
Crime is another concern. The crime rate for the area surrounding Nellis AFB is higher than in the rest of Las Vegas. Parents need to be aware that there is a criminal element surrounding the base.
“The biggest thing is to be involved,” Ashby said. “Have an established plan and communicate back and forth [with your children]. Let them know not to talk to strangers. Have a code word that you can have with your trusted friends and your children so your children can know that the adult is safe. Tell your children not to answer the door if they are home alone, and to not tell someone on the phone they are home alone if you aren’t there. Parents should talk to their children about what to do and what not to do.”
Another excellent resource for children is the youth center.
There is a heightened risk of dangers for children and for them to get into trouble. A lot of children can get into trouble because of vandalism, graffiti, and petty theft, said Reese Davis, 99th Force Support Squadron assistant director for youth programs. When they are not provided with something to do, they might get into trouble.
“This is where we come in with scheduled programs and activities to keep them busy,” Davis said. “We try to give them a positive experience. We give them something they can do and be happy and be in a safe environment.”
“When a child comes in, we are trying to teach them to be a better adult, that is our focus, to give them the life skills to grow,” Davis said.
Being aware of the risks to children can ensure they have a healthy, safe and happy summer. For more information on how to protect your children visit www.usa.safekids.org
Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series of three articles about summer safety in Las Vegas.