The sweltering summer

For several years now Police and Animal Welfare agencies have been advertising about the dangers of leaving children and animals in cars, especially in summer. But what about surveillance investigators? Doesn't anybody know, or care? Does it even cross your mind?

This is a story of one such investigator, working a job in regional New South Wales.


There had been about a week of hot days and I was asked to conduct surveillance in a regional area of south-western NSW. The land was flat, the housing estate was new, and the shade was non-existent. I started early in an attempt to beat the heat and settled in to wait for something to happen.

About nine o'clock in the morning the windows of the car were as open as possible without being obvious and my 12-volt fan was doing it's best to circulate the air around the interior of the car. There was no breeze outside so the fan was providing the only source of air movement to aid in evaporation. It was starting to warm up.  

A few hours passed with no activity and the heat was building. The windows were opened no more than an inch or two and my fan was struggling to shift the air, which by now was heavy with the smell of sweat. The heat inside the vehicle felt like a blanket had been placed over my face.

It was about this time I heard a small "crack" from the driver's compartment. I went forward to check and ensure the windscreen and side windows were ok. The source of the noise was not immediately apparent. I searched for what may have broken and discovered some red liquid on the centre console. That was when I found it. The thermometer I kept in the front of the car had broken and the liquid had spilt. I checked the scale and saw the red liquid was at the top of the range, which suggested the temperature had exceeded the 55 degrees celsius limit of the thermometer.  

About this time, after noticing I was feeling light-headed, slightly confused, and had stopped sweating, I decided it would be prudent to cease observations and move back to another location. I needed to concentrate on rehydrating, cooling the vehicle, and reducing my risk of heat illness/exhaustion. 

Whilst it is easy to talk about now, my experience serves as a warning to both investigators, and their bosses, that we should include the dangers of heat in our risk assessments and be conscious of the effect of weather on ourselves and our staff. We also need to stand up to our clients and not be afraid to cease surveillance activities if our health is being adversely impacted. There is a saying that we "are only as good as our last job", but we also need to be healthy enough to be available for the next one.