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ST. LOUIS – With steamy summer weather across the St. Louis area, beating the heat becomes a matter of life and death. Families struggling to try and beat the heat and those who can’t pay their energy bills can turn to the non-profit Cool Down St. Louis.

“We are in 44 counties in Missouri and Illinois and we have a consortium of 30 partners. So what we’re trying to do—first of all—in the summer, is save lives,” said Gentry Trotter, founder of the non-profit. “That’s critical. Making sure people have their utilities, working with Ameren to make sure that happens as well.”

The all-volunteer Cool Down St. Louis provides financial assistance to pay for high cooling bills for seniors and those with a disability.

“What we are trying to do is keep people alive…and we are trying to tell seniors who do traditionally every year, they’re trying to save a nickel or dime, forget about that! What (they) need to do is worry about keeping cool and we will help (them) with (their) utility bill.”

The non- profit also provides new or gently-used working air conditioners with the additional priority given to needy families with small or critically-ill children, seniors, and others who are considered at-risk.

“ is massive in terms of the ability to find partners in case we run out. We will always find money,” Trotter said.

Dr. Robert Poirier, an emergency medicine physician with Washington University and clinical director of the Barnes-Jewish emergency department, said there are a number of tools to help people avoid heat-related deaths and illness.

“Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and try and stay away from alcohol and caffeine,” he said. “Watch your urine. If it looks like it’s becoming dark or yellow, you’re getting dehydrated. Make sure you start to drink more fluids like water or juice. Check on your air conditioners. And check on the elderly, so older family members and then the very young are not able to tolerate the heat as much as all of us.”