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Firefighters warn of dangerous lightning strikes during Florida's storm season

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Posted at 5:00 PM, Jun 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-10 18:42:56-04

BOCA RATON, Fla.  — As afternoon storms become a daily routine this time of year in South Florida, so does the risk of lightning.

On Sunday, a motorcyclist died after being struck by lightning on I-95 near Daytona Beach. His helmet was cracked and burned.

Doctors said it's rare to be struck by lightning, and even more rare to survive.

"The initial lightning strike can cause the heart to just stop," said Dr. Jason Sevald, Facility Medical Director at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center's Emergency Department.

Dr. Sevald said those patients can survive if they can get to a defibrillator in time to just start the heart again. There are cases where people are indirectly struck by lightning, like three Boca Raton firefighters in 2016.

"It knocked them off their feet and in the trees," said Assistant Fire Chief Michael LaSalle of Boca Raton Fire Rescue.

Assistant Chief LaSalle said the firefighters were responding to a house fire when they were indirectly hit by lightning.

"They had some hearing and some vision issues. Thankfully all cleared up," said LaSalle.

They believe the electricity traveled through water when it made contact with the firefighters. They all recovered. Dr. Sevald said in many cases, survivors describe concussion-like symptoms after being indirectly hit by lightning.

"Almost like taking a blow, a severe physical blow to the body getting hit at once," said Dr. Sevald.

LaSalle said there is no safe place outdoors during a storm. He said, if possible, take shelter inside a building or in your car.

"General rule is 30 minutes after a storm, if you don't hear anymore thunder, lightning, and it's clearing up, it's generally safe to go back outside," said LaSalle.

It's also important to remember that lightning can travel several miles ahead of a storm, so even if it's clear outside, lightning can strike.