Jul 22, 2002
On July 3, Andrew Weybright, a 23-year-old firefighter, died while going through training exercises with the fire department in Frederick County, about 50 miles from Baltimore.
Two days later the Maryland state medical examiner ruled heat exhaustion the cause of his death. It was hot that day – in the high 90s and with a Red Alert, to warn people of the smog and humidity.
Weybright’s case drew attention because he was young and had just passed a Fire Department physical – apparently he was in good physical condition.
But what about the others bothered by the heat? Baltimore City health officials admitted two weeks later that at least 25 people have died this summer from the hot weather, compounded by the high level of air pollution. Most of the people were older people, some with health problems but not all, who live in poor or working class neighborhoods. And in every case mentioned, these people do NOT have air conditioning.
We can be sure that these were not wealthy people who died of the heat. No, it is always poorer people who cannot afford air conditioning on their low wages or pensions or Social Security.
The heat is not a new problem in Baltimore, nor in many many other cities. In 1993, for example, 118 people died in a heat wave in Philadelphia. In 1995, more than 400 died in a heat wave in Chicago. Every summer, there’s a very good likelihood that cities like Baltimore will get not only hot – but very hot. This could be prepared for.
Like heat in winter, air conditioning in summer should be available for all. It’s a necessity in this society, but it’s kept from those who need it only by capitalist greed.