published Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Heat is really on for some Chattanooga-area workers

John Thompson, Eureka Foundry's melt foreman, supervises as molten iron is prepared for a pipe mold Tuesday morning at the Eureka Foundry in downtown Chattanooga.
John Thompson, Eureka Foundry's melt foreman, supervises as molten iron is prepared for a pipe mold Tuesday morning at the Eureka Foundry in downtown Chattanooga.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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RECENT HIGHS

Date / High / Record

Today / Upper 90s / 100

Tuesday / 99 / 99

Monday / 97 / 99

Sunday / 95 / 99

Saturday / 90 / 99

Source: National Weather Service

James Elder stood for 20 minutes above 2,800-degree molten iron inside Eureka Foundry, then stepped away for a short break, sweat pouring off his face.

He didn't go outside, however, where temperatures climbed to a record-setting 100 degrees on Tuesday - the hottest day of the year so far. But indoors or out, it wouldn't really matter, he said, because heat doesn't affect him like it does others.

"I'm just older," the iron pourer said. "I've been doing this forever."

But today, temperatures could reach levels that haven't been felt on Aug. 3 in more than 50 years.

WRCB Channel 3 Meteorologist Nick Austin is predicting highs in the high 90s, with record-tying 100 degree temperatures possible. If the mercury hits the century mark today, it will become the hottest Aug. 3 since 1957.

"Unless you get a shower or thunderstorm, you're not going to see a lot of relief from the heat," said David Gaffin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn. "You're going to have to wait for the end of September for temperatures to go down. That's how it usually is."

While others complain about the heat, Eureka workers just chuckle to themselves.

"I take great pleasure when people say, 'It's hot outside' when I know what I've got to do," said John Thompson, a foreman at the Carter Street foundry.

Thompson watched Tuesday as thousands of pounds of freshly melted metal poured into an enormous bucket, then walked right up to it to help rake out impurities. Standing within a yard of the containers can be too hot for some, but Thompson didn't flinch as he glanced over the red-hot metal.

It takes a certain amount of mental toughness to take the heat. But Thompson, who has been working in the industry since 1975, has an advantage.

When a person spends lots of time in tough temperatures, their thermoregulatory system adjusts to the highs or lows, better equipping them to cope, experts say.

That's why Southerners can be outside playing in the sun when Northerners might be weighed down by the same temperatures.

"We've been exposed to these temperatures so our thermoregulatory systems are working at their best this time of year," explained Brendon McDermott, a thermal physiology and exertional heat illness specialist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Still, even those who are used to working in particularly hot, humid conditions need to take breaks from the heat, stay well hydrated and do whatever they can to keep cool, he said.

Dave "Sarge" Scollim knows a thing or two about keeping cool.

On Tuesday afternoon, waves of heat could be seen rising from his hot dog and sausage cart on Broad Street while the numbers climbed on the time and temperature clock across the street.

"It's not difficult for me. I've spent a lot of time in the desert, so I'm used to it," said the Army veteran, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. "You're talking 130, 140 degrees over there."

To stay cool Tuesday, he put a cold wet wrap around his neck, threw an occasional ice cube down the back of his shirt, drank a lot of liquids and simply stepped back from the grill whenever he could.

"I just take a step back and it's like night and day," he said.

Scollim was helping out his wife Megan, who owns the cart, and said he actually enjoys the work despite the sweat and sweltering heat.

"I'm having a blast meeting people," he said.

Love of the job seems to be the key to overcoming the heat.

Glass sculptor Christopher Mosey spends hours working on projects, sometimes watching the thermometer climb to 120 degrees in Ignis Glass studio on Rossville Avenue.

"I don't do that very much because it's dangerous," he said. "It looks like I just jumped into a pool of water."

Glass must be held in a 2,000-degree furnace before it can be sculpted. Once Mosey picks up a flaming blow pipe and dips it into the glass, he stands in front of smaller furnaces called glory holes that reach up to 2,300 degrees, sculpting the piece.

An individual piece can take 30 to 45 minutes of nonstop work, so when it's steaming hot outside, Mosey commits himself to producing buckets of sweat along with each piece.

"No matter what you do, you'll never catch up with your body sweating," he said.

Mosey loves his work, so he's willing to make the physical sacrifice. He just keeps in mind it won't always be this bad.

"In winter, it'll be 20 degrees away from everything and around 60 near the furnaces," he said. "I love the winter."

MORE: Working with penguins is cool, especially when it's 100 outside

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