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Summer safety in the great outdoors

World Bicycle Day is in June, which is also National Camping and Great Outdoors month. As many spend more time outside, here are some safety tips to help keep experiences enjoyable.

Rebecca Martinez is a paramedic with the Falcon Fire Protection District. Whether local or venturing into the wilderness, everyone should stay hydrated and maintain adequate sun protection.

“Out east, it’s just plains but we are still at high elevation,” Martinez said. This means less shade from the mountains or trees, factors can lull some into complacency.

When it comes to biking safety, wear a properly fitting helmet.

“It’s very much something that is going to save your life,” she said.

Watching for pedestrians and being aware of one’s surroundings is important, Martinez said. While bike riding, travel in the same direction as traffic, obey all traffic signs, signals, road and trail markings, and ride defensively taking note of people, cars and wildlife. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, El Paso County was No. 1 in the state in traffic fatalities in 2023.

Deputy Chief Jeff Petersma of the FFPD recommended that night riders use rear and forward-facing lighting devices on the bike and reflective clothing that would reflect off of headlights. As far as drivers, “Motorists need to be aware of people on bicycles when driving down roads and backing out of driveways,” Petersma said.

With summer storms, lightning awareness is also important. If someone gets caught in a storm, getting indoors is best, said Lt. Curtis Kauffman of the FFPD. If that’s not possible, stay in the car, which is also important if live electrical lines are on top of a vehicle. “We don’t get close either until power is turned off because it can’t travel out in the ground 6 to 10 feet,” Kauffman said. If neither is an option, any covered structure with a roof is better than a tree, which is known to be a good conductor of electricity, he said.

          With the warmer temperatures, fire safety is also essential.

         First and foremost, Petersma reminded folks to know their local county fire ban restrictions and red flag warnings. Have a water source nearby like a hose, keep it small (no more than 3×3 feet), if using a fire pit, keep it clear from combustible materials, and do not leave it unattended.

        If camping, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service also recommends choosing a site (for campfires) downwind from the tent and gear and ensuring that it is cold to touch before leaving the area.

        Aaron Berscheid is a district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. One of his roles is public education related to wildlife and the environment.

For those going out in remote areas where help might be delayed, Berscheid recommended carrying a rescue kit with at least three items: a signal like a whistle or mirror to help rescuers find the location, a fire starter kit consisting of a ferro rod with Vaseline-saturated cotton balls, and a shelter-like 5 mm construction trash bag to keep dry and protect from hypothermia.

        For people fishing, rafting and boating on lakes, streams and rivers, Berscheid advised wearing a life jacket at all times.

       “Things happen so quick and usually most people aren’t planning on being outside of the boat, and so they don’t have their life jacket in a place they can get to it after the boat wrecks,” he said.

Berscheid said even experienced swimmers can be taken by surprise. “Once they hit that water, it takes a few seconds for your body to get to where it needs to be mentally, if at all, and so that’s valuable time that you could use to rescue yourself.”

Another consideration is interacting with wildlife. While it might be tempting to go up to animals, it’s important to maintain distance when possible, Berscheid said. The more comfortable animals like deer are around humans, the more likely they are to be aggressive when they feel threatened.

He also recommended keeping dogs on a leash.

“If dogs are running around, there are many animals that look at dogs as coyotes because that’s their natural predator; some animals will run away but others will turn around and get aggressive toward the dog.” If the dog is attached to his person, most wildlife will shy away from animals on two legs, he said.

Jay Christianson is president of the El Paso County Search and Rescue. EPCSAR is a division within the sheriff’s office that responds to emergency calls in off-road and wilderness settings in unincorporated El Paso County. His group sees primarily injured outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

           He gives three pieces of advice for longer trips in the backcountry. The first is to bring the 10 essentials (listed below), including extra food, water and clothing.

Second, plan those trips. Let someone know the travel plans, set a return time and have them call 911 if that time is exceeded.

“That really helps us speed up our response to you because we already know where to look,” he added.

Third, get educated on the backcountry and acquire skills for the backcountry. Know how to navigate without a battery powered device.

Above all, Christianson said, “If something starts going wrong, calling early is often beneficial to the outcome of the situation.” Most people hesitate because ambulance and helicopters are expensive. SAR is different because it is free, run by volunteers and available 24/7, 365 days a year.

For those going higher up, remember the effects this has on the body, especially if engaging in more strenuous activities. At altitude, the lower oxygen levels can lead to mild headaches to dehydration to fatal conditions like cerebral and pulmonary edema.

While most issues generally occur above 8,200 feet, personal factors play an important role. These include physical fitness, medical conditions including heart and lung issues and medications. When in doubt, stop and descend.

Certain medications, including sleeping pills, some pain medications and alcohol can exacerbate medical conditions at higher altitudes so consult a doctor before taking these. Remember to bring emergency medications such as epi-pens and inhalers, especially for people at risk for allergic reactions.

           If a family member is visiting from sea level, consider their tolerance to higher elevations, physical conditioning and plan trips accordingly. If necessary, spend a day or two to acclimate at a higher elevation before doing something more strenuous.

In other words, think twice before bringing grandma from Texas with COPD up to Pikes Peak, or the uncle from Florida on oxygen up to Cripple Creek, or that out-of-shape cousin from the Midwest who wants to go up the Manitou incline.

While appreciating nature, be aware of everyone’s limitations, be respectful and cognizant of surroundings, don’t litter and, of course, have fun.

The 10 essentials — https://www.nps.gov/articles/10essentials.htm

Current fire restrictions — http://www.coemergency.com/p/fire-bans-danger.html.

Campfire safety — https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/SurvivalFire.aspx

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