Weighed down by 50lb backpacks, weapons, ammunition and in full uniform, exercises on the Brecon Beacons are gruelling enough for troops at any time. But when they are being put through their paces on the hottest day of the year, that challenge becomes even harder.
The two servicemen died in a challenging training regime near the Storey Arms Centre in Brecon Beacons, amid some of the hottest weather of 2013 with temperatures as high as 29.5C.
A total of six men collapsed during arduous physical exercise in the Brecon Beacons, in Powys, Mid Wales.
One defence source said the men “fell unconscious during strenuous physical exercise” close to Pen y Fan, which at 2,900 feet is the highest mountain in South Wales. All were in the Territorial Army and the heat was being investigated as a factor in the deaths.
A typical exercise in the Brecon Beacons would involve running long distances in full camouflage uniform. Carrying heavy weights, weapons and radio packs would also be par for the course. The troops who died were part of a 100-strong group trying to make it into the SAS reserves. All would have to wear helmets and none would be allowed short sleeves despite the extreme heat. Some exercises take place over three days, with soldiers covering distances of up to 40 miles a day.
British soldiers have become experts at quickly recognising heatstroke danger signs following a decade in the 50C Afghan temperatures.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two heat-related health conditions. If they’re not quickly treated, they can both be very serious.
Heat exhaustion can occur when the temperature inside the body (the core temperature) rises to anything between the normal 37°C (98.6°F) up to 40°C (104°F).
At this temperature, the levels of water and salt in the body begin to fall, which can cause a person to feel sick, feel faint and sweat heavily.
If a person with heat exhaustion is taken quickly to a cool place, is given water to drink and has their excess clothing removed, they should begin to feel better within half an hour and have no long-term complications.
Without treatment, they could develop heatstroke.
Certain groups are more at risk of developing heatstroke or suffering complications from dehydration, and should be taken to hospital. This includes:
- children under two years old
- very elderly people
- people with kidney, heart or circulation problems
- people with diabetes who use insulin
Heatstroke is far more serious than heat exhaustion. It occurs when the body can no longer cool itself and starts to overheat.
When the core temperature rises above 40°C (104°F) the cells inside the body begin to break down and important parts of the body stop working.
If left untreated, it can lead to complications, such as organ failure and brain damage.
The symptoms of heatstroke can include:
- Mental confusion
- Rapid shallow breathing (hyperventilation)
- Loss of consciousness
What to do
Heatstroke is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately. Dial 999 to request an ambulance if you suspect heatstroke.
While you’re waiting for an ambulance to arrive, make sure that the person is as cool as possible. Move them to a cool area as quickly as possible, remove excess clothing and try to cool them by fanning them. If they’re conscious, give them cool, not cold, water to drink.