Wednesday, July 4, 2007 | 1:03 a.m.
Maybe we're learning how to cope with extreme heat.
Compared with June 2006, local ambulance companies responded to about half as many heat-related calls last month and took about one-third fewer people to hospitals for heat ailments. Both Junes were similarly hot, so the stats suggest we're getting better at this.
So if we heed the advice - avoid going outdoors, but drink plenty of water in case we have to - we'll survive the high temperatures that are expected to assault us through Friday.
Today's official high - taken at a thermometer that's protected by afternoon shade at McCarran International Airport - is expected by the National Weather Service to hit 116 degrees. Back yard thermometers will likely top that number elsewhere in the valley, giving bragging rights to a whole lot of people.
Since the weather service began keeping records in Las Vegas in 1937, there have been just four days when the mercury has climbed to 116 degrees or higher at the official recording station. The last was in July 2005, when the all-time local record of 117 degrees was tied.
"The fewer emergency calls would indicate that efforts to warn people to drink water and protect themselves from the excessive heat are getting across," said Tony Greenway, director of administration for MedicWest ambulances.
His company responded to 45 heat-only calls last month compared with 87 the previous June. MedicWest took 25 heat victims to area hospitals in June compared with 48 in June 2006.
Combined with American Medical Response's calls, local ambulance companies responded to 127 heat-only calls in June compared with 205 the previous June, and transported 62 people last month compared with 95 the previous June.
For their part, fire department dispatchers for Clark County, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas sent paramedics out on 118 heat-only emergency calls last month compared with 193 for June 2006.
(Area hospitals are not required to report heat-related ailments to the Southern Nevada Health District for statistical compilation, a health district spokeswoman said.)
The temperatures for the two Junes were comparable. The weather service said there were 22 100-plus degree days last month compared with 21 in June 2006. However, last month, on average, was one degree cooler (89.5 degrees) than in June 2006.
Emergency medical service experts say that although there are not enough data from ambulance calls and temperature statistics to draw scientific conclusions, there are indications people are more respectful of the heat.
"The longer you live here you recognize the issue and take self-protective measures," said Joe Heck, emergency medical services director for the Health District.
For tourists unfamiliar with the desert climate, he says , the jury is still out on whether they are taking in enough water to prevent dehydration , which causes heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat strokes.
Fred Neujahr, a registered nurse and manager of the adult emergency department at Sunrise Hospital, says the numbers of heat victims in his emergency room last month indeed seemed low.
"I was bracing for worse," said Neujahr, who worked in a Chicago hospital during the heat wave there in July 1995 that killed hundreds . "It was surprising to me ... that we didn't treat a lot more tourists.
"My general sense is that there has been enough media reports about the heat that it has increased people's awareness to protect themselves."
Las Vegas is not the only area bracing for wicked hot temperatures.
The Colorado River Valley, including Lake Mead, is expecting highs ranging from 118 to 121 degrees today and Thursday. Mesquite is expecting highs of 115 to 118 degrees. Death Valley, Calif., is expecting 122- to 127-degree highs, the weather service said.
In a normal year, about 175 people in the United States die from extreme heat. Those most at risk are children, the elderly and those who are sick or overweight, the Health District said.
Seventy people statewide died from heat-related causes in Nevada 2000 to 2004, the latest year for which statistics are available, according to the Center for Health Data and Research in Carson City .
Sun reporter Mary Manning contributed to this story.