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The Scoop

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Left alone: Heat in car can quickly become killer

Statement issued Thursday:

Fort Wayne, Indiana – At the mid-point of summer with hot temperatures throughout the country and more than 20 child deaths so far from hyperthermia, Safe Kids Allen County reminds caregivers to never leave children alone in vehicles.

According to a national survey done by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, 45 percent of parents think it is “very unlikely” a child in their neighborhood could “die from the heat after being left alone in the car.” But on average, this occurs 38 times a year. It has already happened twice in Indiana during 2011. With the support of the GM Foundation, Safe Kids Allen County and a network of 600 coalitions and chapters across the nation are helping to educate parents and caregivers by providing prevention information. Parents need to understand how quickly a car can heat up, how susceptible children are to heat, and what they need to do to help prevent these tragic deaths.

Since March, 21 children have tragically died from being trapped in a sweltering car or truck – with nearly one-fourth of the deaths occurring in Texas alone. It can happen at temperatures as low as the mid-50s.

“As these tragedies continue to occur, Safe Kids Allen County has redoubled its efforts to get the message out that the inside of a vehicle is an extremely dangerous place for a child to be alone,” said Carmen DeBruce, coordinator, Safe Kids Allen County. “The inside of a car acts like a greenhouse, a place no child should be alone. Because children’s bodies heat up by as much as five times faster than adults, this makes them much more susceptible to heat stroke.”

Although most would assume this would never happen to them, there is no common description of the caregiver that has experienced this tragedy. It has happened to the rich and poor, educated and less educated, women and men, city dwellers and suburbanites, and in every state but Wyoming.

“Reaching parents and caregivers with these safety messages will no doubt help keep kids safe. These heartbreaking incidents can happen to anyone and public education is vital to combating these preventable occurrences,” said DeBruce.

“Good communication between parents and teachers can be a key to child safety and prevention of the devastating effects of hyperthermia,” said Kristie Reeves, a mother who lost her child to hyperthermia this year. “One phone call with a child care center or school can save a child’s life.”

Record temperatures mean that cars heat up very quickly. On an 80 degree day, the temperature inside of a car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes. In the same survey done by ACTS, 9 of 10 parents report that they never leave their child alone in a car but for the one parent that does, things can end tragically. The bottom line is that there are ways to prevent these deaths. Actively look in cars and trucks in parking lots and call 911 immediately if you see a child unattended in a vehicle.

Here’s what parents and caregivers need to know and why.

  • Lock cars and trucks. Thirty percent of the recorded heat stroke deaths in the U.S. occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle. These deaths can be prevented by simply locking the vehicle doors and putting keys out of reach to help assure that kids don’t enter the vehicles and become trapped.
  • Create reminders. Many child heat stroke deaths occur because parents and caregivers become distracted and exit their vehicle without their child. To help prevent these tragedies parents can:
  • Place a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag or something that is needed at your next stop on the floor in front of a child in a backseat. This will help you see your child when you open the rear door and reach for your belongings.
  • Set the alarm on your cell phone/Smartphone as a reminder to you to drop your child off at day care.
  • Set your computer calendar program to ask, “Did you drop off at child care today?” Establish a plan with your child care provider that if your child fails to arrive within an agreed upon time that you will be called within a few minutes. Be especially mindful of your child if you change your routine for child care.
  • Dial 911 immediately if you see an unattended child in a car. EMS professionals are trained to determine if a child is in trouble. The body temperature of children rises 3 - 5 times faster than adults, and as a result, children are much more vulnerable to heat stroke. Check vehicles and trunks FIRST if a child is missing.
For more information on preventing child heat stroke deaths, please visit www.ggweather.com/heat and www.safekids.org/nlyca .

Safe Kids Allen County is a coalition of local organizations dedicated to preventing accidental childhood injury, the leading killer of children 14 and under. The lead organization for Safe Kids Allen County is Lutheran Children’s Hospital. Safe Kids Allen County is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing accidental injury. Safe Kids Allen County was founded in 1999.

Safe Kids USA is part of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations whose mission is to prevent unintentional childhood injury, the leading cause of death and disability to children ages 1 to 14. More than 600 coalitions and chapters across the U.S. and 19 member countries across the globe bring together health and safety experts, educators, corporations, foundations, governments and volunteers to educate and protect families. For more information visit www.safekids.org .

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