‘Please, check on your neighbors’: Spokane Fire chief says many heatwave victims were alone

SPOKANE, Wash. – This historic heatwave is killing people in the northwest and some of them are our neighbors. 11 people are now dead; the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office saying they’re likely heat-related.

Four more people were reported dead on Friday morning, and it’s possible that number could keep growing.

The Spokane Fire Department says it’s seeing double the number of calls this week. On average, they get about 120 a day, but during this week of the historic heatwave, they’ve been getting about 240 calls for help each day.

Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer believes many of those calls have some type of connection with the heat.

Friday morning, Schaeffer said he went to a call of a death in Spokane where a woman was checking on her sister. She hadn’t heard from her sister in a few days, came over to check on her and turned out she passed away.

“House was closed up, no air conditioning,” he said. “It’s incredibly emotional for these families and for people who may not have a close connection or be, from a proximity standpoint, close enough to drive over and check on somebody. It’s so critical to check on our neighbors.”

That’s what volunteers with the Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels (GSCMOW) and Spokane Meals on Wheels (MOW) are doing when they drop off food for the seniors they serve.

Janet Dixon, the director of development and communication for GSCMOW, says they’ve been very concerned about the seniors.

“An elderly person, they’re unable to handle the heat,” she said.

Both Meals on Wheels in Spokane and the county are distributing fans out to their seniors. When they do so along with their meals late-morning, they make sure they have contact with senior to make sure they’re doing alright.

For GSCMOW, Dixon said if there’s a person they’re particularly worried about, they’ll have the Spokane Valley Fire Department go and check on them later in the day since it’s hotter then.

“We’ve been so grateful for the Valley Fire Department to go a little later in the day with their crews and their expertise to see readily if someone maybe’s got hyperthermia. Maybe someone’s got a little heat stroke going on,” Dixon said.

For the city of Spokane’s Meals on Wheels, development director Sarah Hall says if they don’t get a response from one of their seniors, they’ll call first responders for a welfare check.

There have been cases where seniors are not answering the door and they did have to call first responders for help. Hall was not able to release the outcomes of the call.

“If every person in Spokane made one knock on a door of a senior, then lives could be saved,” Hall said in a statement.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Number of possible heat-related deaths rises to 11

Of the 11 who’ve died so far, four of those identified are older than 60.

Schaeffer says he’s seen many of those people who died this week were older, had no air conditioning and were alone, with no one checking in on them.

Of the three identified, they’ve had underlying health conditions. For example, people with cardiac problems or have diabetes could be more impacted by the heat.

“There’s so many medical anomalies that could occur, variables associated with heat,” Schaeffer said. “It’s very similar to what we’ve seen in past disasters. Like the significant smoke, it impacts those at risk for inhalation or breathing challenges. This is a rare event. Please, check on your neighbors.”

If you do feel like they’re starting to overheat, Schaeffer says you want to try and cool off your bodies and hydrate as much as possible.

“At the same time would be the best way. Staying cool, staying in the shade, going to the least hot area of your house which maybe your basement or underneath a tree,” he suggested, adding that a cold bath or cold shower could help.

If it comes to it, call 911.

If you’d like to donate fans or money to help, both Spokane Meals on Wheels and the Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels are continuing to take donations throughout the summer.

Spokane Meals on Wheels: 1222 W. 2nd Ave. or online here.

Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels: 12101 East Sprague Ave. Spokane Valley, WA 99206 or online here.

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READ: How to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke