LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — As the heat keeps climbing in Las Vegas, so does the number of emergency calls for heat-related illnesses, some of which have resulted in death.
When 911 takes the call, emergency situations are commonly redirected to Community Ambulance, which will increase its coverage of Clark County to 65% come Friday. According to Senior Director Glen Simpson, the 25 heat-related calls they responded to in June have been trampled by the 136 heat-related calls so far in July.
He confirms some of the calls ended with the subject succumbing to the heat.
“Those calls are coming in at all times of the day,” Simpson said inside the Henderson headquarters Tuesday morning. “Family may be there on scene, maybe family or a bystander or a neighbor that’s ultimately called 911. So, that’s another dynamic we have to deal with. Death is, unfortunately, a real part of our job. But for others, it’s not normal.”
“It turns into a very chaotic situation,” he said.
July is historically the busiest and heaviest caseload for the Clark County Coroner’s Office. Coroner Melanie Rouse, who signs off on death certificates, adds the peak now extends into August.
The office reported 124 heat-related deaths in 2020, which nearly doubled to 250 cases in 2021. That dropped to 165 heat-related deaths in 2022, with 22 recorded so far in 2023.
Since taking office two years ago, the coroner says how they classify a heat-related death has changed. Or, to Rouse, it was a “criteria standardization” to yield more reliable data.
“We sat down with all of our board-certified forensic pathologists and came up with a case consensus so that we could clearly define how we were classifying heat-related deaths,” Rouse said during a virtual interview Monday afternoon. “We coined the term phrases of ‘environmental heat stress’ as a contributing factor in deaths, and ‘hyperthermia.’ ”
Her staff is then tasked with a weeks-long process of interviewing family, investigating acclimation conditions (i.e. if the individual who was found dead in a home had AC and if it was functioning properly) and conducting toxicology tests. Rouse says this typically takes around 45 days.
But, she adds that can take more than twice as long. With 90% closing before the 90-day mark, any cases received now can take months to confirm as heat-related, meaning it could be months before the true toll of the most recent heat wave is known.
“We may not be able to say distinctively whether or not that’s a heat-related death immediately. We would of course investigate it as such, so that was part of us developing standards,” Rouse said.
A new study recently published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation found there’s a 74% increase in heart attacks during a four-day heat wave above 94 degrees. The National Weather Service reports average temperatures above 94 degrees for two straight weeks in the Las Vegas area, as of Tuesday.
Both Community Ambulance and the Clark County Coroner urge people to limit sun exposure, take precautions if they must be outdoors and drink plenty of water to protect themselves from heat-related complications.