During World War I, soldiers were developing infections from open sores after being in the trenches for extended periods of time. The problem was aptly nicknamed “trench foot.” The same condition, this time called “jungle rot” debilitated soldiers during the Vietnam war. While the nicknames were different, the condition was the same – they were all variations of immersion foot syndromes.
When the outer layer of the skin is exposed to moisture for a prolonged period of time, the tissue breaks down and ulcers develop from the weakening of the skin. Add unsanitary conditions, and infections are just around the corner. While immersion syndromes may be at the extreme end of the spectrum when discussing proper foot care, it highlights the importance of keeping your feet dry, as friction and excess moisture can start to seriously damage your feet in less than 48 hours.
Drying Out Boots
Let’s start with the basics. You get multiple calls to sump pump basements after a flash flood. Hours later, after wading in disgusting water, your feet are soaked and you feel damp all over. Since you have access to resources and may have time in between calls to dry your feet, your best bet is to stuff your boots with an absorbent material. Your truck might have hazmat absorbent pads, paper, or cold weather hand warmers; all will remove the moisture from your boots while you give your feet a chance to dry out. You should also be prepared with an extra pair of socks, if not two – remember, if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. Hair dryers, space heaters, and bathroom hand dryers are all unconventional sources of heat that will help you stay warm and dry.
If you’re in the field, you can start with the obvious – use fire to accelerate the process. Be careful not to have your boots too close to the source, as it can compromise the structure of the boot by melting adhesive materials or damaging threads. After removing the insoles, hang your boots upside down using a stick in the ground and leave them overnight to dry.
However, if you’re looking for a faster solution, you can start by removing the insoles from your boots and placing them in a position to dry. Next, find what you can that may be absorbent – dry leaves, grasses, cloth/towels, or newspapers all work well. Stuff them tightly into your boots. Then, remove them and after a minute and repeat. This will help remove excess moisture while your feet air-dry.
Remember, when it’s time, it’s time. No one wants to give up their favorite pair of boots or gloves. Alongside your teammates, you’ve saved many patients, extinguished many structural fires, and accomplished many goals; but, eventually, the protective components break down from wear and tear and it becomes time to break in a new gear. Know when it’s time for an upgrade. Whether you’re a newbie or have gear older than some of your crew – taking care of your favorite pair of boots can be easy with a little bit of knowledge.