(By Fire Chief Matt Love) Each year in the United States, there are about 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes and about 300 people are struck by lightning. Of those struck, approximately 30 people are killed and others suffer lifelong disabilities. Most of these tragedies can be prevented. As rainy season begins to pick up here in the “Lightning Capital of the Nation”, it is important that we refresh ourselves on lightning safety tips to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening in our community.
We have all heard the phrases “Keep Your Eye to the Sky” and “If the Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” and both hold very true especially during this time of the year. Lightning can be a striking risk as far as 10 miles away, and this is about the distance you can hear thunder. However, it can be difficult to tell when a storm is coming – even if there is a clear blue sky, you can still be at risk for lightning strikes.
When you hear thunder, you should seek shelter in a safe location such as a fully enclosed building with a roof, walls, and a floor or a fully enclosed, metal-top vehicle. Picnic shelters, pavilions, tents (any kind), dugouts, greenhouses, carports, or open garages; convertibles, bicycles, motorcycles, golf carts, or boats with cabins are not safe locations to go during a lightning storm. While seeking shelter indoors, stay away from windows and doors and do not handle items that conduct electricity, including corded telephones and computers. Do not take showers, do laundry, wash dishes, or use any appliance hooked up to your plumbing system.
There is no safe place outside during a storm. If you cannot get to a structure, try these suggestions to minimize your risk:
- Squat low to the ground. Do the “lightning position” by kneeling or crouching with your hands on your knees-never lie flat on the ground.
- Avoid tall structures (towers, trees, fences, poles) and open areas.
- Get away from water, including pools, rivers, lakes, and beaches. If on the water, come ashore and land any boats, kayaks, canoes, or other watercrafts.
- Move into valleys, ravines, or low areas.
- Avoid water and wet items, metal objects, tents, and natural lightning rods (golf clubs, tractors, fishing rods, bicycles).
- In the woods, stay under a low clump of trees. Never stand under a tall single tree in an open area.
- If you feel your hair stand on end, drop to your knees, bend forward, and put your hands on your knees.
Please also remember that medical care may be needed immediately to save the life of a lightning strike victim. Cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common results of being struck by lightning. If you see a lightning strike victim, call 911, and perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) if the person’s heartbeat and breathing have stopped.
We hope this information is a helpful reminder and that our community stays safe during our “Rainy Season”.
Chief Love has been the Fort Myers Beach Fire Chief since 2016. In 2019 he was selected by the Fire Chiefs’ Association of Lee County Florida as Fire Chief of the Year, and in 2020 he was named District Manager of the year for the state of Florida by the FASD. He can be reached at the fire department headquarters at 239- 590-4200