Workers take on Las Vegas' sweltering temperatures


This year delivered Tino Diaz's 35th anniversary as a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier.

Hot on the milestone's trail were triple-digit temperatures and the reminder of the summertime rigors of Diaz's job.

"I always tell people there are only two animals allowed out during a Las Vegas summer : a desert tortoise and U.S. postal carrier," he said. "If you want to look back at the hottest day in the past 35 years, I've probably lived it."

Thousands of the Las Vegas employed call the great outdoors their workplace -- and a treacherous one at that. The maximum average for June is 98.9 degrees, July is 104.4 degrees and August is 101.8 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Las Vegas. July 15 and 18 were the hottest days last year, with temperatures tipping off at 113 degrees.

The working masses know the rules for braving blazing temperatures, but some of those with "hot jobs" have developed their own tricks.

The mail never stops

Diaz got into the mail-carrying business after he was discharged from the U.S. Navy and funding for his gig as a recreation director ran out. Since being hired with the U.S. Postal Service, Diaz has criss-crossed the valley with routes at all points, he said.

Most days, he makes about 670 deliveries to homes and businesses. Just like the valley he serves, Diaz said his job has changed.

"Before we got in the water crunch and desert landscaping came, it was enjoyable to have sprinklers," he said. "We'd use them to hop in and out to stay cool."

Door-to-door service has slowed with the introduction of centralized mailboxes for a whole community. Diaz said he misses the days when he would stop and get to know customers, who'd often greet him at the door with bottles of water on hot days. But on the flip side, one central mailbox means one stop and less time walking, he said.

"That's a life saver at times," he said.

Diaz dons a hat and opts for long pants in lieu of shorts to keep his legs cool. He carries a small jug of water. He makes due in his un-air-conditioned mail truck.

"They've supplied us with fans in the vehicles," he said. "They are good at blowing hot air on you, but it does work to cool you off a bit when you perspire."

David Rupert, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the agency emphasizes being smart about the elements to its employees.

"Our carriers don't mess around with heat," he said. "They are pretty good about taking care of themselves so they can deliver the next day -- which might be even hotter. They take a lot of pride in delivering through all conditions."

The heat "is a mental challenge," Diaz said, and hot days are almost as plentiful as a cliche he meets often.

"A common phrase customers use on me is, 'Well, is it hot enough for you?' " he said. "It's just kind of hilarious to me now."

Always in front of the fans

Cosmo, mascot for the Las Vegas 51s Triple-A baseball team, is said to have survived a spaceship crash at Area 51 , which discontinued his career as a baseball phenomenon on his home planet of Koufaxia.

Now, the creature spends his days boosting the baseball team and revving up crowds.

But he needs support to get the job done.

Stephen White is one of two people who don the 20-pound Cosmo suit for each game and appearance. White has spent four seasons under the fat suit, fur shell and head that make up the get-up.

"It's about 15 to 20 degrees hotter inside there," he said, "e specially when you get running around -- it's a big, furry suit."

White, a lifelong Las Vegan, wears basketball shorts and a sleeveless tank top while on the job.

"I caught on pretty fast, and the heat never bugged me," he said. "The hottest time during the night is right off the bat when you run on the field to get everyone pumped up."

He doesn't wear an ice pack or carry water inside the suit but said he stays hydrated and takes breaks. He nixes soda from his diet and eats before a shift, too.

But the unsavory elements of his job get outweighed by the good, he said.

"It's a lot of fun . I enjoy the fans and everyone I work with," he said. "As a mascot, you can goof around and do what you want and nobody knows who's under that."

Sweat retreat

Sean Callahan, lead lifeguard at the Bill & Lillie Heinrich YMCA, 4141 Meadows Lane, said the hottest days of the year really make him sweat out a day's work.

"Those stick with you," he said. "Last July, it got to be like 115 degrees -- no clouds, no wind, just straight sun. We were very busy that day."

He said he and fellow lifeguards give thanks for mandated breaks they must call for swimmers.

"We get the kids out of the pool and we jump in sometimes," he said.

YMCA lifeguards take 30-minute breaks every hour and a half, Callahan said, during their four- to six-hour shifts. Other times, lifeguards watch for signs of fatigue in themselves and their coworkers.

"It's a lot of water, a lot of sunblock, hats and paying attention to each other," Callahan said, "j ust like anyone else in Vegas."

Maintaining cool

Mother Nature has to wake up pretty early in the morning if she wants to get in the way of some Las Vegas workers.

The Nevada Department of Transportation has some employees with its landscaping division start a work day at 5 a.m. and clock out at 1 p.m. before temperatures rage.

"We try to work with the heat," said John Riggs, a Nevada Department of Transportation supervisor. "Even early, it can be 90 (degrees). I do expect them to have ice water ready at the beginning of the shift."

His 17 employees are to work in a buddy system, Riggs said, to watch for signs of heat stroke while tending to landscaping on Nevada freeways.

Mohamed Rouas, assistant district engineer for the department, oversees maintenance on freeways, and work is split between night and day crews, he said.

Each crew is allowed to plan its shifts when summer months hit.

Rouas said he encourages his workers to take breaks and seek shade.

"In the summer, our biggest risks are the heat and rattle snakes," he said. "They like to be in the shade, too, and they'll hide around drainage (entrances)."

The Nevada Department of Transportation provides hats, gloves and water to help employees stay cool. The heat isn't a pass to slack, he said.

"We still have to serve the public. We still have certain responsibilities," Rouas said. "We give them all the equipment and resources they need to work safely."

Contact Centennial and Paradise View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

 

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