Uniform redesign (fabric safety issues and hypothermia)
Amick Robert (email@example.com)
Thu Apr 02 14:07:57 1998
I agree with Joe that if you want to change into or add cotton
outgarments (or NOMEX if you
are really concerned with flammability) while you are
working with flammables, that certainly makes sense, but just be sure you
have the synthetics/fleece fabrics for all other times.
In any outdoor setting, summer or winter, the probability of hypothermia
from wearing wet cotton is far greater than the probability of serious
burns while wearing synthetic fabrics, and can be just as deadly
for the unprepared. Hypothermia as you know is often
insidiously caused by "killer cotton;" and most hypothermia cases and
deaths occur in the summer months rather than in the winter, due to
a variety of factors; mostly inadequate preparation for sudden weather
changes, resultant wet clothing, and exposure to wind which dramatically
increases the wind chill factor. Polyester fleece retains virtually no
moisture and will insulate even when only slightly damp, unlike cotton
which saturates heavily with water and takes forever to dry out, thus
wicking body heat away at alarming rates.
My favorite demonstration of this phenomenon is to take a pair of dry
cotton jeans, weigh them on a scale, then soak them in water and weigh
them again. The weight difference is remarkable. Then, I do the same
with a fleece pullover, and there is very little change in the weight
since fleece holds virtually no moisture.
Just to further enhance the point, I take a thermometer, place it on the
wet cotton jeans and start a fan blowing on them. The temperature drop
from evaporative cooling is pretty impressive. Conversely with the fleece
it is imperceptible. So the point is easily made to the unwary Scouts who
don't associate the dangers of hypothermia with wet cotton clothing.
We can't prevent everything, but we have to deal with probabilities; with
reasonable care, folks can prevent being seriously burned, but with young
folks especially, it is far more difficult to keep them warm and
non-hypothermic when they are wearing cotton.
Remember too that children and adolescents (and the elderly) are far more
susceptible to hypothermia than adults and the onset is far more rapid, so
when they complain of being chilled, best pay attention and see that
something is done to quickly compensate. Unfortunately, they often do not
complain until they are really in trouble, with numb feet and hands, and
are shivering. This occurred at a recent winter district campout, and upon
the recommendation of the health and safety staff, the event chairman
decided to cancel the event because the wind chill factor and number
of folks coming down with hypothermia was becoming significant. And, of
course, most of those affected were wearing what else? Cotton socks,
jeans, underwear, etc.
At the Air Force Academy's large "Freeze-O-Ree" the medical staff took
special precautions by using space heaters in military tents set up for
rewarming. Although the weather wasn't severe, it was very useful to have
that kind of "aid station" to deal with hypothermic Scouts.
Dehydration is also a chief contributor to hypothermia and is equally
insidious. Warm "Gatorade" or other sports drinks are good since they also
help to quickly rehydrate, restore electrolyte balances, and provide
glucose (which is directly absorbed into the bloodstream and metabolized)
and rewarm hypothermic Scouts (and Scouters).
Another good tactic is to give Scouts "midnite snacks" of high
fat foods such as cheese before they go to bed which will be slowly
digested and turned into sugars to help keep them warm throughout the
night. During the day, they should have "gorp" bags with nuts, sugar
candies, raisins, granola, etc., and mandated "water breaks" so they
And if you want to get into the "dreaded cotton scout socks controversy"
they are the chief contributor for blistering of feet on even minimal
hikes. Having worked in Jamboree Subcamp medical centers for many
previous jamborees, I can attest to this phenomenon from first hand
Norman McLeod's post on this topic is especially thorough and well done.
There are fabrics and garments which are designed for varying situations.
In accordance with our motto, "Be Prepared," it is imperative that we
educate Scouts and Scouters on the appropriate variety and applications
for them in changing environments.
Bob Amick, EMT-B, Explorer Advisor, High Adventure Explorer Post 72/SES72,
Boulder, CO; Longs Peak Council Exploring Training Chair
On Mon, 30 Mar 1998, Joe Burns wrote:
> As a long time EMT in both the city and the back country, I would rather
> deal with an individual who came into contact with a fire while wearing
> cotton than some one wearing one of those miracle plastics that continue
> to melt into and through the flesh after the source of ignition is