Vancouver’s outdoor workers attempt to beat the heat

Copious amounts of water and shade help tradespeople through soaring temperatures

Ramiro Duran is a bit of an outlier when it comes to breaking rocks in the hot sun.

Standing in close to 30° weather, the construction foreman isn’t fazed, nor is he even sweating as he speaks in front of a building project on Yukon Street and Fifth Avenue.

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“I don’t own a pair of shorts. This [heat] doesn’t bother me at all,” Duran told the Courier Monday. “As you can see, I’m wearing a flannel shirt and drinking a hot coffee.”

Vancouver’s current heat wave isn’t that big of a deal for Duran, given his 20 years’ worth of working outside in places such as Nevada, Texas, Florida and Arizona.

Duran’s hottest work day on record is somewhere around 44 . He’s currently tasked with overseeing roughly a dozen tradespeople who are building a five-storey office.

All of them were in the shade Monday morning when the Courier asked them and other outdoor workers for tips around surviving an extended heat spell.

“Quite often, most of these individuals are not used to the heat like I’m used to it,” Duran said. “The best thing you can do is keep them hydrated and keep them in the shade.” 

Flagger Jamie Woodroffe works anywhere from eight to 15 hour days near the job site. While this summer is no picnic, she says it’s far better than the prolonged heat and horrid air quality seen last year around this time.

“You just deal with it. As a flagger, you have to deal with every kind of element,” she said. “When you’re standing out there and don’t have time to get shade, grab your water bottle or to relieve yourself, that is the hardest part.”

Carpenter Prisciliano Zamora was sitting in the shade during his half-hour break when he spoke to the Courier. But like Duran, he says temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s barely register with him.

“It’s very good, actually. There’s a bit of a breeze so it’s not that bad,” Zamora said. “When it’s super hot, you just have to keep going. We drink water, of course.”

The last seven days have been rife with every manner of heat-related advisory from all levels of government.

Environment Canada’s heat warning was issued July 25 and expected to carry over until Tuesday. Metro Vancouver’s air quality advisory went out Sunday and cautioned the elderly, infants and those with respiratory ailments from being outside for too long.

The provincial government’s Level 3 drought notice Monday morning urged everyone from the south coast to Alaska to voluntarily lay off water consumption where possible.

Cooling centres were opened last week at libraries and community centres across Vancouver. Temporary water fountains were attached to fire hydrants at more than a dozen locations where foot and cycling traffic is most prevalent in the city.

Symptoms of heat-related illness include fatigue, headache, dizziness, cramps, nausea, weakness or even fainting. If you happen upon someone exhibiting those signs, call 9-1-1 and apply water to the person’s neck or face. The 8-1-1 health line can also be called in those types of situations.

Few occupations are more taxing in lengthy bursts of heat than roofing. Like almost everyone else who spoke to the Courier Monday, Abul Mengal and Shaw Geydohtoot were in the shade during their midday interview.

The Homan Roofing employees work between eight to 10 hours a day in punishing heat, which was supposed to top out at 28° on Monday. Couple those temperatures with torches, tar, rubber and sealant, and the work day can get especially gruelling.

“Our company is really good. They let us take our breaks whenever we need and they keep us hydrated,” Mengal said.

Thomas Chan is in a bit of a sweet spot, in that he splits his days between both indoor and outdoor settings. He works in shipping and receiving for electrical distribution company Nedco and, on a busy day, Chan has to load and unload 10 vans’ worth of supplies.

“It’s a lot, lot more humid this year compared to last year,” Chan said. “I’m drinking lots of water, staying inside or in the shade when I can and I’m wearing light clothing.”

A reprieve from radiation is expected later this week. Environment Canada calls for a 30 per cent chance of rain on Thursday and, of course, bits of rain over the upcoming long weekend.





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