PHOENIX (NEWSnet/AP) — The Phoenix Fire Department has made ice packs part of its emergency treatment for heatstroke victims during hospital transport.

The technique, officially known as cold water immersion, is familiar to marathon runners and military service members and has also recently been adopted by Phoenix hospitals as a go-to protocol, said Fire Capt. John Prato.

Prato demonstrated the method earlier this week outside the emergency department of Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix.

“Just last week we had a critical patient that we were able to bring back before we walked through the emergency room doors,” Prato said. “That’s our goal — to improve patient survivability.”

During the demonstration, ice cubes were packed into an impermeable blue bag placed around a medical dummy representing a patient. He said the technique can dramatically lower a too-hot body temperature in minutes.

Ice and human-sized immersion bags are now standard equipment on all Phoenix fire department emergency vehicles.

The new first response protocol is among measures the city adopted this year as temperatures soar high in the summer and the impact on people compounds. For the first time this year, Phoenix will also keep two cooling stations open overnight for local residents.

The first heat blast of 2024 has already started, with excessive heat warnings in effect for parts of Nevada and Arizona through Friday evening; and unseasonably warm temperatures moving by the weekend into parts of the Pacific Northwest.

And the experience of dangerous heat waves from last summer is still fresh.

“We’ve been seeing a severe uptick in the past three years in cases of severe heat illness,” said Dr. Paul Pugsley, medical director of emergency medicine with Valleywise Health. Of those, about 40% do not survive.

Cooling down patients long before they get to the emergency department could change the equation, he said.

Pugsley said he was aware of limited use of the technique in some places in California, including Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto and Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, and by the San Antonio Fire Department in Texas.

Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix embraced the protocol last summer, said Dr. Aneesh Narang, assistant medical director of emergency medicine there.

“This cold water immersion therapy is really the standard of care to treat heatstroke patients,” he said.

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