South­land stands up to the heat

Calls to emer­gency agen­cies and util­i­ties spiked with tem­per­a­tures, but ma­jor prob­lems were avoided.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Tony Bar­boza and An­drew Blankstein

As the mer­cury shot up­ward Mon­day, first re­spon­ders and power util­i­ties braced for a hellish day of out­ages, heat-re­lated ill­nesses and brush fires.

But if they ex­pected chaos, they got a man­age­able on­slaught in­stead.

Put to an ag­gres­sive test, Los An­ge­les County’s emer­gency sys­tem han­dled strains dur­ing the short but in­tense heat wave, re­spond­ing to a swell in heat-re­lated med­i­cal calls and record en­ergy de­mand with rel­a­tive pre­ci­sion, even as tem­per­a­tures pushed to an all-time high of 113 de­grees in down­town Los An­ge­les.

Dis­patch­ers at the Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Cen­ter, four floors be­neath Los An­ge­les City Hall East, hun­kered down to an­swer an in­ces­sant in­flux of emer­gency calls from morn­ing to mid­night, a vol­ume of calls that was among the heav­i­est on record — larger even than dur­ing the 1994 Northridge earth­quake, of­fi­cials said.

“We couldn’t keep up with the calls that were com­ing in,” said Los An­ge­les Fire Depart­ment Capt. Gail

Man­ning, a floor su­per­vi­sor. The in­ci­dents “were spik­ing all day long. The dis­patch­ers were re­ally tak­ing a beat­ing. They went from one call to an­other.”

Al­though fire of­fi­cials logged 1,900 calls and rushed 697 peo­ple to lo­cal hos­pi­tals for treat­ment, there was lit­tle to no jump in heatre­lated pa­tient ad­mis­sions to county hos­pi­tals, ac­cord­ing to a spokesman for the Los An­ge­les County Depart­ment of Health Ser­vices.

Still, at least two deaths have been at­trib­uted to the heat since Mon­day, ac­cord­ing to the Los An­ge­les County coro­ner’s of­fice.

Arquimedes Jose Mestre, 56, was found dead of hy­per­ther­mia Mon­day on a street in Pomona. The coro­ner’s of­fice also de­ter­mined that the death of 56-year-old Sally Menke, the long­time film edi­tor for di­rec­tor Quentin Tarantino who was dis­cov­ered dead early Tues­day morn­ing in Grif­fith Park, was heat-re­lated.

About 100,000 power cus­tomers faced out­ages through­out South­ern Cal­i­for­nia as crews worked to re­pair ca­bles, cir­cuit break­ers and trans­form­ers that conked out in the heat.

Over­all, how­ever, the com­pli­ca­tions were less se­vere than in past heat waves. In July 2006, day af­ter day of swel­ter­ing heat claimed more than 100 lives statewide and un­re­lent­ing power de­mand led to out­ages that dark­ened more than 1 mil­lion house­holds in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Fire­fight­ers and util­ity op­er­a­tors said that the 2006 heat wave served as a wakeup call and that they were sim­ply more pre­pared this time around.

“It’s pretty much a given: Any time you have ex­treme weather, you’re go­ing to get ex­treme calls be­cause peo­ple are not used to it,” said Capt. Sam Padilla of the Los An­ge­les County Fire Depart­ment, where emer­gency calls went up about 20% Mon­day be­cause of an in­crease in heat-re­lated med­i­cal prob­lems. Calls to the

‘It’s pretty much a given: Any time you have ex­treme weather, you’re go­ing to get ex­treme calls be­cause peo­ple are not used to it.’

— Capt. Sam Padilla,

L.A. County Fire Depart­ment

Orange County Fire Author­ity jumped 40%.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice also cred­ited a unique weather pat­tern that was more spike than wave, bring­ing an in­tense but quick shot of dry heat to the Los An­ge­les Basin that peaked Mon­day af­ter­noon but quickly re­ceded, cool­ing by about 10 de­grees in most places by Tues­day.

The first heat-re­lated emer­gency call crack­led across the Los An­ge­les Fire Depart­ment ra­dio shortly af­ter 1 p.m. Mon­day. It was a man in his 60s who had passed out at the side of an auto parts store at 109th and Figueroa streets.

It was one of 22 calls Mon­day that were clas­si­fied as heat ex­po­sure, said Los An­ge­les Fire Depart­ment Bat­tal­ion Chief Mike Rhodes.

But it could have been worse. On Mon­day, the air was so dry that al­though many com­mu­ni­ties broiled in tem­per­a­tures ex­ceed­ing 110 de­grees, the hu­mid­ity was not high enough to trig­ger the com­bi­na­tion of heat and mois­ture that re­sults in the most se­ri­ous heatre­lated ill­nesses, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice.

The power grid seemed to weather the heat re­mark­ably well, even as util­i­ties broke us­age records. The Los An­ge­les Depart­ment of Wa­ter and Power recorded its high­est-ever de­mand for elec­tric­ity at 3:45 p.m. Mon­day, sur­pass­ing the pre­vi­ous record set on July 24, 2006. The heat did not cause more wide­spread out­ages partly be­cause elec­tri­cal sys­tems are bet­ter at ac­com­mo­dat­ing quick spikes in tem­per­a­ture and power de­mand than pe­ri­ods of sus­tained heat, of­fi­cials said.

The num­bers seem to re­flect that. About 100 elec­tric trans­form­ers have failed and 81,000 cus­tomers have lost power since Sun­day, com­pared to the 2006 heat wave, when out­ages touched 1.1 mil­lion cus­tomers and 1,300 trans­form­ers had to be re­placed, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son Co. of­fi­cials said.

“The sys­tem in gen­eral is more ro­bust,” said Henry Martinez, grid op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor for South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son.

Adding to the com­pli­ca­tions: By midafter­noon, a fire that broke out near trans­mis­sion lines in Shasta forced grid op­er­a­tors to shut down a ma­jor power-im­port­ing artery in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and ask util­i­ties to ac­ti­vate their vol­un­tary en­ergy cut­back pro­grams.

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, that meant that all 341,000 South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son cus­tomers who have vol­un­teered to have their air con­di­tion­ers au­to­mat­i­cally turned off to de­crease de­mand were called upon.

Mariah Tauger

COM­MAND POST: Capt. John Sul­li­van takes a call at the Emer­gency Op­er­a­tions Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les.

Ge­naro Molina

SAPPED: Richard Pose, 32, takes a breather dur­ing his ex­er­cise rou­tine at the Bald­win Hills Scenic Over­look. L.A. County emer­gency calls rose about 20% Mon­day be­cause of an in­crease in heat-re­lated med­i­cal prob­lems.

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