Town opens a ‘cooling center’ as heat wave worries officials

With temperatures over 90 degrees predicted for the entire week, the town has opened a cooling center at the Ridgefield Parks and Recreation Center on Danbury Road for residents looking to escape the heat.

“The town recognizes the weather forecast for the next week includes up to seven days of a heat wave,” said Fire Chief Heather Burford. “We’re concerned for anyone without access to air conditioning and the ability to cool off and we think it’s important to provide a town facility to get out of the heat.

“We encourage people to take this seriously.”

The cooling center will be open during regular business hours: Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Chief Burford said there is no overnight sheltering at this time, but there could be depending on the volume of people requesting emergency help.

“It could be deemed necessary to keep the facility open as an overnight shelter but we’d hope that won’t have to be the case,” Chief Burford said.

Chief Burford added that the duration of the predicted heat wave has town officials worried.

A heat wave is defined by temperatures above 90 degrees with high humidity that occurs for three consecutive days.

“It’s been a while, at least several years, since we last saw a heat wave that was supposed to go for seven or more days,” Chief Burford said. “The length of time of this forecast has us worried. Seven days is a long time to go without a break — it’s a very long time.”

The town has experienced three heat waves so far this summer, but none of which has lasted more than four days, she said.

In addition to duration, predicted nighttime temperatures have officials concerned.

“At night, the temperatures are not dropping enough nor is the humidity dropping enough to give people a reprieve from the heat,” said Chief Burford.

The people most vulnerable to the heat wave are people above 65, infants under a year old, and people who are living alone or who are “socially isolated.”

“We really want to get the message to those over the age of 65,” Chief Burford explained. “We’re encouraging folks to check on your senior neighbors, and any neighbor who may have limited contact to others.”

She added that people taking certain medications for insomnia, high blood pressure and depression should be checked on throughout the heat wave.

The last group of people the town is concerned about are those who do exercise outdoors — bikers and runners — and workers.

“Anybody who is outdoors and engages in serious activities should take adequate breaks,” Chief Burford said. “Our recommendation is to not workout outside during this period.”

In terms of what to do during the heat wave, Chief Burford said people should wear light-weight and lightly colored clothing, avoid the eating of foods heavy in fat, and, most importantly, stay hydrated.

“If you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated,” Chief Burford said. “You need to be proactive in hydration and address it before you feel thirsty.”

To avoid dehydration, Chief Burford said people should limit their outdoor activity as much as possible and should not consume alcohol.

In terms of food choices, she said people should eat lightly — consume fruits and vegetables that are easy to digest, not fried meats such as pork and chicken.

“Everyone should know the symptoms of heat exposure, most importantly,” she said.

Chief Burford added that the Rec Center will operate under normal business conditions, but is “a friendly, open environment” for people to do work and relax.

“The Rec Center is a very inducive location to host the general public,” she said. “It’s very welcoming for those looking to get out of the heat for as long as they need.”

For any more questions about the cooling center, Chief Burford said to call the Rec Center’s main line at 431-2755.

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