The summer’s high temperatures continue, bringing with them an uptick in hospital visits — not just for heat-related illness but also cardiovascular and respiratory disorders. Keeping your own temperature down in high heat can reduce health risks without slowing your summer roll.
Other than heading to the pool or a city-run cooling center, here are a few suggestions for staying cool from the people who spend their summers working outdoors.
Some people can escape the blazing sun, but those like muralist Eric Okdeh aren’t as lucky. Okdeh, who has completed more than 150 murals, says the job is “deceptively strenuous and intense.” The Mural Arts Philadelphia artist can spend up to eight hours a day in the sun, painting, lifting 50-pound bags of grout and silt, and sweating buckets.
He needs a lot of water for himself and his crew. “I buy water-cooler containers from Home Depot and fill them with 20 pounds of $5 ice every three days,” Okdeh said. “It’s a good way to stay hydrated easily and cheaply.”
Sometimes Okdeh’s crew members dip a T-shirt in an extra cooler or spare water bucket before draping it over their heads or around their necks.
Outdoor violist Kristen Taylor recreates this on a smaller, subtler scale. While performing in and around the archways of City Hall, the 22-year-old uses a kerchief to dry her neck. Sometimes she wets it before wiping her neck and forehead.
Shifting the hours and items on your to-do list can help keep you out of an overheating danger zone, says Bill Henkel, owner of BHC Roofing. On days with higher temperatures, he opts out of having the crew do a full tear-off — ripping off layers of a roof down to its wood deck — to reduce the risk of heat stress or fainting.
» READ MORE: What you need to know about the excessive heat
“I’ll look at the weather and push the job, or see if we’re going to have a break and bring in lighter jobs, so we’re just doing shingle repairs or coatings instead of the harder labor,” Henkel says. “It’s not as involved.”
Okdeh and his crew work in similar conditions, though they can’t always find ways to “escape the sun.” To stay cool and safe, Okdeh and his team will start their workday earlier and wrap before the sun and temperatures are at their highest.
“If your wall faces north, you’re in the shade all day, but if it faces the east, you get the morning sun. And with the west, it’s the afternoon sun," Okdeh says. “So if I’m working on a wall facing west, we’ll come in around 6 a.m. and leave by 2 p.m. so that we don’t get overheated.”
Henkel’s crew may be able to go more casual in T-shirts and shorts, but not everyone has the luxury of dressing down in the heat. Bill McIlhenny wears about four layers of clothing while portraying Trooper Robert Hare for Historic Philadelphia, the organization that manages the Betsy Ross House, Franklin Square, and Once Upon A Nation’s free walking history tours.
McIlhenny, who performs kid-friendly drills in the art of marching and musket etiquette behind Second Bank at Fourth and Chestnut Streets, takes “a common-sense” approach to clothing. With a 14-piece uniform that can include a tricorn hat, overalls or breeches, a long-sleeved shirt, and waistcoat, he keeps to all-natural fibers, like linen and lightweight cotton, in sun and shade.
During the summer, urban forester and watershed restorationist Peg Shaw can spend hours outside doing soil and ground litter inspections, or ripping up and mowing down invasive plants. While out, she sometimes uses a hard hat to protect her head from falling debris and to shade her face.
Henkel’s roofing crew also leans into head wear when pulling up and disposing up to six layers of roofing. “They’ll wear short sleeves and shorts, but a lot wear big-brim beach hats to make sure they aren’t exposed on their face or their neck,” Henkel said.
Taylor, the violist, tends to work in shadier spots around the city, so a hat is less necessary, but she is mindful of how she wears her hair. “The summer is pretty brutal in Philly, especially downtown,” Taylor says. “So I try to pack light and keep my hair off my neck. That’s a really important thing for me.”