DECATUR — Through rain, through snow, through sleet, through hail: Stephanie Hesse has delivered Decatur's mail in all kinds of weather for over 21 years. 

"The heat is the worst," she said Wednesday afternoon, when the air temperature hit 95 degrees. "You drink water and then almost immediately sweat it out." 

The National Weather Service at Lincoln issued a heat advisory Wednesday for much of Central Illinois, where temperatures were in the 90s. Meteorologist Ben Deubelbeiss said the heat index, a measure that factors in humidity, reached 100 degrees for Decatur. 

Hesse works out of the U.S. Postal Service office at 214 N. Franklin St. in Decatur, where workers have been sweating inside as well: Their air conditioning went out in the first part of the summer. Liz Hall, a supervisor at the post office, said the air conditioning was fixed just a last week. Her main concern as a supervisor is to make sure the carriers stay hydrated and have food. 

"We all watch out for one another, and especially on days like today when the heat is scorching, we are all in constant communication," Hall said. "If someone is in distress, I'll know right away and can get them help."

Other Decatur businesses and organizations said they take special measures to keep employees and customers cool and comfortable on hot days. For the homeless, local organizations like the Oasis Day Center and Northeast Community Fund offer crucial help and respite from the sweltering temperatures. 

"It's great that we can offer services through us and places like Oasis to the community and it also doubles as a place where people who might have nowhere to go can escape the heat," said Jerry Pelz, former director of the Northeast Community Fund and a volunteer with Oasis.  

The Northeast Community Fund, which helps to provide people with food and other assistance, also goes the extra mile to keep employees hydrated according to Pelz.

"We need to make sure they are drinking water," he said, "because unloading and reloading products into vans is taxing considering they are sometimes carrying products that needs to be refrigerated ASAP." 

Another job that doesn't stop in the heat? Zookeeper. Scovill Zoo Director Ken Frye said employees stay hydrated with frequent water breaks and "human misters," which are essentially sprinklers, Director Ken Frye said. They work eight-hour shifts, mostly outside. 

"We are allowed to take water and shade breaks when we need to cool off,"  said Wesley Potter, who has worked at the zoo for about 2½ years. "Plus, the misters are great, and employees and customers use it all the time."

The animals have special features built into their habitats to ensure they can stay cool on hot days, Potter said. For instance, Eden the sloth has a fan in her exhibit. In addition to misters and fans, the red pandas also have an air-conditioned shelter where two panda cubs spend much of their time during the summer.

Other animals have shelters where they can sit in the shade, and Frye said they frequently receive ice cubes or ice treats, such as frozen fruits and vegetables.

If you need to get some yard work done, today might be the day. Deubelbeiss said temperatures will be cooler today, but will heat up again this weekend. 

"It'll be one of the longer stretches of heat we've had so far this year," he said. There will be high temperatures in the low 90s on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and the heat could continue into next week.

"Anytime we have these longer stretches of heat, it really takes a toll on the body," he said. 

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Contact Analisa Trofimuk at (217) 421-7985. Follow her on Twitter: @AnalisaTro


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