As heat-related deaths drop, rescuers say don’t let your guard down

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The number of heat-related deaths are down by 35 percent so far this year in Pima County.

The Medical Examiner's Office has recorded 11 deaths compared to 17 during the same time frame last year.

The ME couldn't pin down a specific reason for the dip in numbers, saying it could depend on several factors.

Experts say the dip doesn't mean you should let your guard down.

Dale Mann, a member of the Southern Arizona Rescue Association, has first-hand experience with heat-related illness.

He was on a mission in the summer of 2016 when he started to become ill. He said the heat was deadly that day and the symptoms hit him quickly.

"I was getting tired. It was getting hard to life one foot after the other. I was sweating profusely still. Kept trying to keep going because you don't want to let your team down but eventually it got to the point where I had to stop," he said.

Mann's crew began their rescue protocol and he was eventually airlifted off the trail. He was rehydrated and was OK. Today, Mann continues to be a part of SARA and assists with missions.

Officials at the Medical Examiner's Office say they plan to begin tracking heat-related deaths in Pima County as they would suicides and overdoses.

The reason is two-fold. First, they want the information to be accessible to the news media to distribute to the public. Secondly, they hope it could be a resource for organizations like SARA.

SARA sets up at trailheads frequently to give advice to hikers before they hit the trails. The volunteers also provide information to hotels for folks visiting the Old Pueblo.

Mann said he thinks having the up-to-date numbers would be beneficial.

"Being able to tell them, 'we've had this many deaths this year from heat stroke, which is usually the killer,' that would be just another piece of information that we could pass along. We're not trying to scare people from hiking but just telling them, this is what the conditions are," he said.

The ME said it hopes to begin the tracking this upcoming year.

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