This week, a 17-year-old student from Sachem High School North fell ill and died after a four-hour practice at band camp. The cause of death has yet to be determined, but witnesses say the practice seemed routine, held both inside and outdoors.
Could this tragic summer camp incident be related to heat?
Hidden Heat Dangers of Summer Camps
Summer camps can be an exciting adventure for kids. Between sports camps, music camps, and general recreational summer camps, there are hundreds of activities to provide joy to kids and allow them to learn new skills along the way. Unfortunately, with the joys of summer camp also comes extreme risks, particularly when activities are outdoors in hot temperatures or high humidity. The majority of summer camps do their best to ensure the safety of their campers but oversights in safety can occur- most of the time when it’s too late.
Heat Causes Summer Camp Injuries…and Death
Heat is one of the deadliest factors affecting our kids every summer. Kids are not only at risk of developing deadly heat-related illnesses from prolonged exposure to high temperatures but they can easily sustain serious injuries participating in activities from the heat’s weakening and dehydrating effects.
Medline Plus identifies these as the four heat-related conditions that could affect your child’s health and safety this summer at camp:
- Heat Cramps: This condition can cause children to experience spasms and muscle pains when participating in strenuous exercise. Children enrolled in sports camps or in camps with a lot of physical activities could feel these cramps in their arms, legs, and abdomen which could cause injuries from feelings of weakness or lack of control.
- Heat Rash: These types of rashes can cause excessive sweating due to skin irritation. Young children often experience heat rash which can be the first sign that your child needs a break or more hydration.
- Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is not instant. This condition reveals itself after several days of exposure to high heat and dehydration. Children suffering from heat exhaustion show symptoms of heavy sweating, weak pulse, and rapid breathing. Heat exhaustion can set children up for serious injuries if they are participating in sports or activities at camp and must be treated immediately or it can lead to heat stroke.
- Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the deadliest of all heat-related illnesses. This condition is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures and severe overheating of the body. Children experiencing heat stroke may be dizzy confused, nauseous, confused, lack sweating, and have a strong or rapid pulse. Heat stroke victims must get help right away to avoid organ damage or even death.
Campers with pre-existing or chronic medical conditions are especially vulnerable to the heat. These individuals could be less likely to respond to temperature changes, retain more body heat, or be taking medications that react poorly to heat, elevating their chances of severe heat-related illnesses or injuries.
Sports Camps In The Heat
Athletes attend sports camps to improve their skills and get season ready for the competition year ahead. Some coaches who run sports camps are tougher than others, yet this is no excuse to ignore the dangers of the heat and misdiagnose heat-illnesses for ‘laziness’.
In addition to displaying the typical signs of an heat illness, ScienceNordic reports athletes whose health is suffering from the heat may be more likely to…
- think less clearly/use poor judgment
- move slower, even when putting in more effort
- deny hydration if feeling nauseous
- slip and fall from dizziness or lack of coordination
- experience impaired performance
The risk of performing any type of physical activity can be doubled when an athlete is not thinking clearly or in complete control of their body, resulting making dangerous mistakes they normally would not make despite the heat.
Is Your Kids Summer Camp Safe?
Your kids go to camp to have fun, not to look out for signs of health and safety risks. Camps are responsible for constantly monitoring their campers and creating precautionary measures for preventing injuries and illnesses, especially in the heat. Not all camps and counselors are as capable of identifying signs of heat-illnesses as others so parents should keep an eye for warning signs that their children’s camp could be dropping the ball on safety.
An article published by SafeBee highlights critical safety questions parents should be asking before enrolling their children in any camp:
- How are staff hired and screened?
- What are the policies for handling medical emergencies?
- What licensing and accreditation does the camp have?
- How many children does each staff supervise at a time?
- Is there a doctor or nurse on the premise and what hours are they there?
- How are medical emergencies handled if medical staff is not available?
- How are parents notified in the case of an emergency?
When it comes to the heat, parents should be asking specific questions to assess the camp’s policies on preventing and reducing the risks of heat-related illnesses. The Gatorade Sports Science Institute provides some excellent resources for parents to learn about what precautions camps should be taking, particularly with sports camps and those with a lot of physical activity:
- How are the counselors/coaches acclimating campers to strenuous physical activity in the heat?
- Are the camps following recommended hydration policies, providing adequate water and sports drinks, as well as breaking every 20 minutes?
- Does the camp require campers to wear heavy uniforms or equipment in the heat?
- Is the camp considering each individual’s body mass during drills and activities?
- Is the camp monitoring for uses of harmful supplements that could increase the risk of sustaining a heat-illness?
- Are the counselors and coaches able to recognize the signs of heat-illnesses?
- Are there cool places for the campers to rest?
- Are the campers eating enough throughout the day?
- Does the camp have policies for reduced activity under high heat and humidity levels?
The most critical advice for parents is to do your research on the camp and its staff before ever sending your children. Once they begin attending, check in with your kids daily to monitor for red flags regarding dangerous activities, unsafe heat conditions, or for any signs of heat-related illnesses before they elevate to more serious health threats.
Keeping LI Campers Safe
Long Island summer camps have a duty to keep your children safe. Heat illnesses and injuries caused by playing in excessive heat are completely preventable. If your child has suffered an unnecessary heat illness or injury at summer camp due to the negligence of the program, you may be entitled to compensation for their sufferings. Siler & Ingber attorneys are experts in the field of personal injury and will fight for your family in seeking justice against negligent programs. Contact our team at 877-718-6079 for a free consultation to explore your options in your case.