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Firefighters use large quantities of water for more than dousing flames. They use it to keep themselves from burning up.
So when Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson last fall asked city department heads to eliminate bottled water, it sounded alarms with the ladder-truck-driving, ax-wielding population.
"We definitely have had concerns," said Jack Tidrow, president of Salt Lake City's firefighters union.
The elimination won't have firefighters drinking from their hoses, but it is changing their hydration habits. Sometime within the next two weeks, the Fire Department will stop hauling chests of bottled water and sport drinks to blazes and will issue refillable 10-ounce containers to each firefighter.
"We're just having to modify the way we do things," said fire spokesman Dennis Mc- Kone.
Anderson made the request to departments in November, saying bottled water puts in landfills and have other environmental consequences. So the Fire Department has been developing a new plan to bring drinkable liquids to personnel working in hot weather against hot flames.
McKone said the department will issue each firefighter a refillable bottle. Then, at each incident, two personnel will be assigned to bring large coolers of ice water and sports drinks and help refill the firefighters' bottles.
McKone said national firefighter standards call for personnel to hydrate with water, then a sports drink, then water again. McKone said no firefighters will be taken away from fighting blazes to supply liquids.
Tidrow said union leaders were worried members would not be effectively hydrated and he wondered whether the ban was an effort to save the city money. But Tidrow said he met with Anderson this week and listened to the mayor discuss environmental problems with bottled water.
"It will be a change in the way we do things, but I believe it can be done, and if it's not effective, then our union will address it with our administration," Tidrow said.
Mayoral spokesman Patrick Thronson said Anderson believes the current plan will keep firefighters safe and save the city money.
"Safety is the most important consideration in this matter," Thronson said, "and obviously we want to make sure our firefighters have enough water to fulfill their duties."
Thronson said Police Chief Chris Burbank is considering options to give similar water containers to every police employee. Police spokesman Jeff Bedard said the department's SWAT team, when given advanced notice, brings large coolers of water or a sports drink to an operation.