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Beating the Heat

City offers options for residents looking to stay cool.

Ruby Looney loves her garden.

"You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl," said Looney, who grew up in West Virginia. She grows cucumbers, red beets, beans, and even potatoes in her garden, and works in it daily.

But for many senior citizens like Looney, the summer heat is a major obstacle to outdoor work. She solves this problem by working in her garden very early in the morning or in evening.

"I was out this morning planting my second round of beans," said Looney. "I wait till the sun goes down to start up again, and sometimes it’s nine o’clock at night by the time I finish up."

"I stay outside as little as possible," said Mary Jane Flower, also a senior citizen. "I live in an apartment, so I don’t have to be out."

Looney and Flower were at the Green Acres Senior Center in Fairfax on Friday, July 29 to hear Ed Clark, life safety officer of the City of Fairfax Fire & Rescue Department, give a presentation on heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Seniors, along with young children, are particularly susceptible to heat-related illness.

"When a body gets to a certain number of degrees, it loses its ability to regulate temperature," said Clark. "Basically, it becomes like a lizard on rock, the same temperature as everything around it."

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be prevented by keeping hydrated.

"I always tell my bike guys and motorcycle officers, ‘Make sure you stay hydrated. Drink water, Gatorade, things like that,’" said Officer Bert Peacher of the City of Fairfax Police Department. "Stay inside if you can. If you’re outside, try to stay in the shade, and make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids. You’re going to lose a lot of fluids in this heat, it’s unbelievable."

"Every summer we encounter people who overdo it, who get dehydrated or get heat stroke," he said. "It seems as though it would be common sense, but people who get out and work in garden for hours on ends, or construction workers work outside, allow themselves to become dehydrated."

"If you have to stay outside, dress lightly, wear a hat and drink plenty of water," said Cathy Salgado, director of the Vienna Department of Parks and Recreation.

People should also pay attention to the air quality to determine how safe it is to be outside, said Salgado. "There were a couple days last week where it was hot, but it was a safe air quality code. It’s not necessarily the heat that makes it unhealthy, it’s the air quality."

SOMETIMES, the best way to beat the heat is to escape it. Many people, like Flower, choose to stay indoors when the weather gets hot and humid.

But for Fairfax residents who don’t have air conditioning, there are several public indoor spaces in the city. Green Acres Senior Center offers activities for seniors such as day trips, card games, crafts, potluck meals, and guest speakers.

The City of Fairfax Parks and Recreation Department offers a Summer Recreation Program for children in preschool to high school. Residents can attend summer classes in subjects such as art, dance, yoga and pilates, as well as play sessions for infants and toddlers.

Public libraries also offer a cool respite from the outdoors. The Fairfax City Regional Library offers a number of day programs for children, teens and adults.

"We love for people to come out of the heat: seniors, school age, any age," said Lois Kirkpatrick, Fairfax County Public Libraries spokesperson. "Anybody is welcome to come and hang out. We have Internet access and quiet study rooms. Now might be the time to read a book like 'Snow Falling on Cedars' or 'Into Thin Air,' things about cold climates."