Leadership, Operations

Consider the Children

Why would a child not be restrained in a car seat?

The end objective is to ensure all your community’s kids are safe in their vehicles. (pexel, Dauda Focus Kore)

By Kathy Clay

I chose not to have children. Twenty-six years old, married, and positive that having a child would change my life with unimaginable gravity, I sought out a doctor to take on my quest. At that time, I lived in the Midwest. Finding a willing doctor was not easy. “You do realize,” the white-coated doctor who agreed to do the procedure, said to me as he glared at me over the top of his bifocals, “this will be irreversible. You will never be able to have children. Ever.” The procedure was successful.

For some reason, the idea of having a child has always overwhelmed me. Carrying a live creature inside one’s self for nine months seemed daunting enough. Then, throw in projecting that baby out of one’s body, the pain, the risk of complications, and then there is a baby. This tiny, wailing ball of protoplasm, totally dependent on its parent’s care. Or lack thereof. Frightening, indeed.

For those of you who are brave enough to take on this life-changing event, I commend you and your courage! Although I have not walked in your shoes, I have a genuine and sincere appreciation for what you have created. This recognition of your accomplishment drives me to promote the proper use of car seats in vehicles.

Data articulates the problem in the United States. Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children ages 3-14. Of the children who die in car crashes, 37 percent were not restrained. The latest data from 2017 reports that 794 children 12 and under died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes. (SafeRide4Kids, 2019)

There is good news, however, when examining this data. In 1997, the number one killer of children up to four years old was motor vehicle crashes. This age level’s death statistics–zero to 4–have been reduced by 15 percent. Motor vehicle crashes are still A leading cause but no longer THE leading cause of children fatalities. Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS) took a hard look at 600,000 crashes with children involved under the age of 16. This research partnership between The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance proved to be the world’s largest study of children in motor vehicle crashes.

The research-to-action approach done by the PCPS partners was pivotal in determining the most effective ways to improve child passenger safety. PCPS took a committed role and forward-leaning lead in new product development, test protocols, and federal motor vehicle safety standards as well as issuing accessible public education materials, policy changes, and medical practice standards. After this ambitious effort, PCPS concluded data collection the end of December 2007. (ChildrensHospitalofPhiladephiaResearchInstitute, N/A)

Then came their findings. Between 1998 and 2011, PCPS published more than 80 peer-reviewed scientific papers and provided presentations around the world. Their 15 Child Passenger Safety Reports summarize their findings and set the context and priorities used even today for child occupant protection efforts. (PhilidephiaResearchInstitute, N/A)

This is where I circle back to that daunting thought of having a child. Seriously. If you went through all that trouble–lousy nights of sleeping, being big and pregnant, having to pee all of the time thanks to the enormous pressure on your bladder as your baby grew bigger and bigger, the fear of the birth, the actual birth, and then the enormity of bringing a live human being into this world totally dependent on your for their continued existence–how could you not want to be sure you have this genetic-resemblance-to-you as safe as possible out on there on the streets, roads, and highways? Can it possibly be true that one in four parents admit to having driven without their child buckled up in a car seat or in a booster seat? (SafeKidsWorldwide, 2013)

Why would a child not be restrained in a car seat? And this is where you, my firefighter brothers and sisters, come into play. You, strong and able fire service people. You, who have been charged and really love to protect and serve your community. You are the place your community thinks of when looking for information on their car seats. They would much rather come to your firehouse than any other choice available.

As we in the fire service look for ways to keep serving “Mrs. Smith,” to sincerely address community risk reduction within our own neighborhoods and continue to be the trusted entity within our communities, I ask, isn’t it time to staff your firehouse with certified car seat technicians? What a great tool for your firehouse toolbox.

There are many benefits to adding certified car seat technicians to your roster. Taking care of your community’s children with this important risk reduction program makes your firehouse shine even brighter. Your community trusts you. They will show up, and by doing so, their kids will be safer in car seats. Find a community-service minded partner to fund purchasing car seats, have a couple available at your firehouse, and distribute them generously. We always ask caregivers for a monetary donation, believing a parent who “purchases” a car seat has more ownership in that seat. I have taken quarters for car seats in the past. I have also accepted checks for sizable donations supporting the program as well. The end objective is to ensure all your community’s kids are safe in their vehicles.

Show up at the annual local health fair and provide free car seat checks. Your community will embrace your effort, and often the newspaper shows up as well. Good press is never a bad thing.

With a car seat staged in the firehouse, you are also prepared to transfer children after a car crash. Are you running EMS calls? Take a look at the best-practice guidelines suggested for transporting children in ambulances. The document, found by searching NHTSA Working Group Best-Practice Recommendations for the Safe Transportation of Children in Emergency Ground Ambulances, will provide you with sage guidance of how to best transport children after a crash. (NHTSA, 2012) Once you read these pages, you will be looking to that trained technician’s advice when your next car crash involves children.

By having a car seat check program, you can easily deliver this risk reduction message. Now your agency has a platform and a way to help caregivers with these often-viewed complicated car seat installations. Inviting community members into your firehouses to do these safety checks provides an opportunity to win more votes, show more taxpayers how much we care, and deepen the relationship your fire department has with your community.

Like all skills, the car seat technician training requires three to four days of book learning, hands-on, and skills testing. Many go into this class pondering what could possibly take so long–it’s just about car seats, right? Nope. It is not. It’s about federal motor vehicle rules, it’s about how the restraint systems work–seat belt and air bags and more–inside of vehicles, it’s about hard choices, and crash forces. It’s about making sure you know what you are doing and that you do it right. Like all the other work we do, we arrive on scene to ensure property is protected, get people care, and ensure children get in their car seats correctly. This is the kind of stuff we do! It fits so well into the firehouse, one ponders how so many firehouses have missed such an opportunity.

You and your leaders want good, quality training. If you get incident command training, for example, you go to a FEMA class. And if you want to become a car seat technician, you want that same quality of national certification training. Safe Kids Worldwide offers this national child passenger safety certification class across the nation, ensuring common training and testing practices and common language and terminology across the United States. You will complete the course confident in your car seat installation skills, even if you too chose to not have a child.

I got dragged to a car seat class in 2006, almost kicking and screaming. As I was freshly hired as a fire inspector, my boss and her boss thought it was important for our fire department to have a couple of certified car seat technicians. I had never even touched a car seat in my life. Brought up on a farm in Illinois, I often played and hung out in the back window of our car. We had an old blue stick shift pickup truck, which I would haul myself up into the bench seat and ride around the countryside, Mom or Dad at the wheel, unrestrained as well, I’m sure. The topic of car seats was extremely foreign to this motherless firefighter/EMT/recently-hired-as-a-fire inspector person. I went, I learned, I saw the light. It all made perfect sense, and since then, I have gone on to become the senior car seat technician for the western counties of Wyoming and one of the dozen or so lead instructors in Wyoming. I get it. I absolutely understand why a parent would want the safest option possible for their child in their vehicle.

And I have seen so many crashes. So many deaths. A head-on collision killing both drivers. The car seat, installed by one of our local certified technicians, saved the three-month-old daughter. Today, she is a happy, growing girl about to turn nine years old. Last summer, another head-on collision with two children secured in car seats, transported from the scene alive. There were three adult fatalities in that horrific crash. These stories fuel my passion for this program, for educating more emergency service providers to become car seat technicians, and for educating parents in our community.

Is there any community in the United States that can say highway traffic crashes are not a risk to their community members? As your fire department explores new avenues and ways to continue to be as valuable as you have been in the past to you community and you plan for the future, consider adding some certified car seat technicians to your roster. This addition will build your staffs’ skills, boost your fire department’s image, and help reduce risk to the most precious resource your community has–its children. You are a firefighter, an emergency responder. Your job is to save lives. Becoming a certified car seat technician is a very, very good way to start doing your job even better.

Battalion Chief Fire Marshal Kathy Clay helps reduce risk in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Serving as a member of the Vision 20/20 Steering Committee, former International Association of Wildland Fire executive board member, and Wyoming Association of Fire Marshal board member, Clay is passionate about reducing firefighter deaths and injuries through community risk reduction programs that reduce community risk as well.