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Phoenix fire union wants trail access limited during extreme temperatures

(Twitter photo/@PHXFire)

PHOENIX – The union representing Phoenix firefighters wants action from the advisory board in the city that has the authority to close hiking trails.

The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board on Tuesday at 5 p.m. will host a virtual public meeting with the third item on the agenda addressing the issue of mountain rescues in extreme temperatures.

This comes after the United Phoenix Firefighters Association requested the board to limit access to the trails that lead to the top of Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak when outside temperatures reach 105 degrees.

The request was made after 12 Phoenix firefighters had to be sent home from duty on June 16 with heat-related issues after performing three consecutive mountain rescues in less than 24 hours during an excessive heat warning.

Two of them had to be hospitalized with acute renal failure.

“This was sort of our wakeup call that indicated something really needs to be done about this because we’re more than happy to take any risk that’s ever needed, but this risk is manageable and we can reduce the danger and risk that’s not only given to the community but also to the rescuers,” P.J. Dean, secretary of the United Phoenix Firefighters Association, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

The fire union also requested hiking access be limited to the Cholla Trail Head and Echo Canyon Trail Head because those areas represent the most dangerous and challenging terrains in Phoenix to perform rescues at.

Essentially all mountain rescues performed at those trails require the use of the city of Phoenix’s helicopter, but the weather elements take a toll on that resource during extreme temperatures.

Dean says Phoenix’s helicopter cannot operate safely in temperatures of 116 degrees or higher.

As a result, any mountain rescues needed in temperatures higher than 116 degrees have to be performed by the crews themselves – hiking to wherever the patient is and putting themselves at risk in the extreme heat.

Dean believes limiting access to these trails during times of extreme temperatures will make for a safer Phoenix and reduce putting residents, visitors and rescuers at unnecessary risk.

“There’s a multitude of other trails and parks that people can utilize if they do insist on being outside in these temperatures,” Dean said. “We don’t want to limit people’s freedom, but we do want to make the city safer and we feel this is the best compromise.”

Ahead of this week’s meeting, the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board said they are committed to exploring all options to keep trail users, first responders and park rangers safe on city trails.

The city’s parks continue to lead with education about responsible hiking. The board asks community members to consider the danger they bring to themselves and first responders when they choose to hike irresponsibly.

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