Soldiers use this quick, cheap solution to cool down quickly in the scorching heat. And you can too.

Soldiers use this quick, cheap solution to cool down quickly in the scorching heat. And you can too.

It almost seems too simple to be true, but research shows that dunking your forearms and biceps in ice-cold water can prevent overheating. It’s a technique the U.S. military has adopted at bases across the country.

“It’s low-tech, it’s cheap, it’s easy to implement,” said Lt. Col. Dave DeGroot, who runs the Army Heat Center at Fort Moore. “It’s a bucket of water.”

After five minutes of immersion, an ice bath can lower your core body temperature by as much as 1 degree Fahrenheit. Since normal body temperature is between 97 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a single degree of internal cooling makes a significant difference.

“Your car has a radiator. Well, so do we. It’s our skin,” said DeGroot, who is charged with developing data-driven solutions to effects of heat on soldiers.

“Our blood cools down and flows back to the core. After a few minutes of exposure, the core temperature eventually drops,” he explains.

The Army has 1,000 arm immersion tables in use across the country. Through a licensing agreement with the Army, immersion tables are also used at fire training centers, NASA launch pads, and by construction companies and college athletic departments.

Arm immersion tables are long, narrow, insulated troughs that stand on four legs. Six to eight soldiers can immerse their arms at a time. Some troughs are even mounted on trailers so they can be quickly moved to remote areas of the base.

Metal tub filled with ice water used for arm immersion at Fort Moore.

Justin McCray

“It’s an introduction to the trainees that heat is a threat,” DeGroot said. “We need to take steps to counter it, to mitigate it. And arm immersion is one of those tools.”

Sometimes prevention isn’t enough and heat becomes an emergency. In those cases, the military has another unique intervention called ice sheeting.

“The idea is to cover as much of the body as possible,” said Elizabeth Meza Hernandez, lead instructor.

Using sheets soaked in a cooler of ice water, Sgt. Meza Hernandez showed how it’s done. She wrapped the icy sheets around a soldier who volunteered to treat a heatstroke victim.

The idea is to cool down quickly victims of severe heat be brought to the scene before being transported to hospital to prevent serious heat illness or even death.

“We go ahead and put sheets on the sensitive areas where the torso meets the head and the arms, so the groin, the armpits, the neck and the head,” she said.

Fresh, cold sheets are changed every three minutes until an ambulance arrives. She said she has done this for at least 10 patients.

DeGroot’s research shows that ice capping is an effective emergency treatment. In 2019, before ice capping was used in Fort Moore, there were 95 cases of sunstrokewithout fatalities. In 2022, after the ice cap began, the number had dropped to 35 victims, with no fatalities.

The gold standard for rapid cooling is complete immersion of the body, where the person is placed in a body bag filled with ice.

In the field, that’s not always possible, but DeGroot says when it comes to saving lives, the ice caps developed at Fort Moore are just as effective.

“Our cooling is not as fast, but what we do have, and what we’ve published here, is that we have an equally good chance of survival,” he said.

As climate change warms our planet, the military’s solutions are cheap, fast and effective – and more important than ever.