Local doctors discuss what it takes to survive at sea as search continues for missing firefighters

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be stranded at sea.

As day six of the search for two firefighters lost at sea comes to an end, every hour is critical.

Action News Jax spoke to local doctors about what it takes to survive at sea.

Dr. Andrew Schmidt, with University of Florida Health, said humans need food, water and shelter from the heat to survive.

He said an average person can survive about three days without any freshwater.

The doctor said drinking salt water would be harmful and could cause kidney failure.

“It’s also going to severely dehydrate the person and make them require more freshwater,” Schmidt said.


With no food, Schmidt said an average person can go for three weeks.

Dehydration, heat stroke and hypothermia, if the firefighters are in the water, are constant threats as days pass by.

Hypothermia means an abnormally low body temperature.

If an individual’s body temperature is too low, it affects the brain which leads to poor cognitive and physical abilities.

“Now you’re not making decisions correctly,” Dr. Schmidt said. “You’re not able to physically do maneuvers that may help to save your life.”

It’s not just the physical fatigue that sets in, but Dr. Justin Mann, an interventional pain medicine specialist, said there’s also the mental aspect.

“When you’re in a stressful situation like this, the mental game becomes almost most important part,” Mann said.

As each hour and day goes by, surviving at sea grows more demanding physically and mentally, but Doctor Mann said these firefighters have what it takes.

“If anyone could survive a difficult mental game, then two firefighters who were trained in stressful, strenuous situations with a focus on survival have the best chance,” Mann said.

Information on how you can help in the search can be found on JFRD.com.

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