PHOTO: THOMAS PATTERSON

City officials are cautioning Calgarians to be mindful of the extreme heat this week, and to take precautions, especially when outside and floating down the Bow River. 

With temperatures in the mid-30 C range for the next several days, officials are calling on people to stay safe by keeping hydrated, wearing sunscreen, limiting exposure and following safety guidelines when on the rivers. However, these warnings were not followed and there were several dozen rescues last weekend. 

“According to the aquatics crews who did a lot of rescues Saturday, Sunday and even [Monday] — people are underprepared,” said Carol Henke, Public Information Officer with the Calgary Fire Department.

Henke is reminding users the Bow River is not a pool or lake and that there are a lot of unknowns. The water flows quickly and there are hazards below the water, as well as bridge abutments.

“When you get caught on a bridge abutment, the water just pushes you up against it. It is very difficult to get out of that situation, and typically that is when 911 gets called and our aquatics team needs to rescue them.”

The City of Calgary’s water safety website details the importance of preparedness, as well as guidelines to be safe when voyaging down both city rivers.

Users must wear appropriate life jackets or personal flotation devices, no matter how well they believe they can swim. A mandatory court appearance and up to $500 fine can be issued to anyone not following rules.

AHS recommendations

When spending extended amounts of time outside, including floating in the water, health officials are recommending people stay hydrated, apply sunscreen and use as much shade as possible.

“Staying hydrated is most easily accomplished by plain old water,” says Stuart Brideaux, a Public Education Officer for Calgary EMS. “The advice of ours is not only to stay hydrated, but that includes drinking water before you’re thirsty.”

Using sunscreen is essential — and people need to apply it properly, he says. That means using more than most people think they should and putting it on well before going out in the sun.

“The effectiveness of sunscreen takes about 20 to 30 minutes to actually work.”

As well, if you’re going to be out and about, wear your own shade —  broad sun hats, a ball cap or something that keeps the heat from off your face and neck, he says.

Too much time in the sun can cause issues such as heat exhaustion which leads to heat stroke. Early signs of heat exhaustion include fatigue, feeling unwell, headaches and occasional feelings of nausea, Brideaux says.

“You can tell when your body is feeling the stress of the heat, you’re still sweating and perhaps thirsty — these are all early triggers.”

Brideaux says to make sure to take practical steps because heat stroke is a true medical emergency. It happens when the body becomes so dehydrated it is unable to sweat and cool itself down. 

“It is extremely dangerous to the body and, if left untreated, someone can die.”

The Bow River. PHOTO: TAYLOR CHARLEBOIS

With hydration playing an essential role in avoiding heat exhaustion and other complications during the wave, charities and other organizations were asking for donations of water.

The Mustard Seed, which helps Calgary’s unhoused population, made a call for water donations last week, as they were running low.

Donors responded quickly and by Saturday most of the support centres and other shelters where the Mustard Seed accepts their donations were completely filled with water, said Drew Gusztak, the manager of Volunteer Services. By Monday, they had acquired a warehouse from a major donor to stock full of water.

“Here we are on Tuesday, and it’s looking like we’re at around 100,000 bottles of water,” he said. “It was a literal flood of water.”

The water will be repurposed to all of the Mustard Seed centres, throughout the remainder of this hot summer, Gusztak said.