Local emergency officials want to make sure area children are safe throughout the year by offering a new certified car safety check site and reminding caregivers of the dangers of leaving children in a hot car.
“One of the free fire and life safety education services we now offer are we are a certified car safety check site,” said Capt. Theresa Knops of the Elkin Fire Department.
Parents and caregivers from Elkin and the surrounding communities are able to set up an appointment to learn about child passenger safety and have their car seats check for proper installment by a nationally certified child passenger safety technician, explained Knops, who also is a member of the Safe Kids Surry County group.
“The reason we do this is 70 percent of all car seats are not used or installed correctly, and we know motor vehicle crashes are one of the number one causes of death in children,” Knops reported.
At present, Knops is the only certified technician at Elkin Fire Department, and the next closest certified check site is at the Surry County Center for Public Safety off Rockford Street in Mount Airy. Therefore, car safety checks are done by appointment by calling the fire station at 336794-6481, messaging Elkin Fire Department on Facebook or filling out a contact form at elkinfire.com.
“We are looking for people in the community who would like to become technicians and help us out with that,” Knops said of the department’s desire to have others take the training to be technicians.
Sally Gilliam, who works at nearby Elkin Elementary School, is expecting her first child this summer, and she took advantage of the free check site service recently. “One of my coworkers at the school recommended the fire station as a good place to install my car seat correctly,” she explained. “We are getting ready to have our first child in June, and we were trying to get prepared.
“It was just a comfort to me to talk to a professional and we were wanting to get it done quickly. I was thankful to be able to have someone certified to do it correctly,” said Gilliam.
Knops said she is available to meet parents or caregivers at times that are convenient for them, whether that is during the day or in the evening. “It will take us about an hour,” she said, of the process which includes making sure there is no recall on the person’s car seat.
“I would definitely recommend any parents to come here to make sure it is installed properly,” said Gilliam. “It was easier for me to get in contact with the fire department. I feel like it is a great local place to get help and everybody is nice here.”
“With so many people traveling over the summer, it is important to me to spend time with them to make sure they are traveling safely,” said Knops.
She said she also is concerned with children’s safety when it comes to the hot temperatures the area is experiencing.
At the end of May, the dangers of children in hot cars hit too close to home when an 8-month-old boy died after being discovered in his mother’s car at a daycare center in Wilmington, Knops said.
The boy’s parents didn’t realize they hadn’t dropped him off at daycare until they went to pick him up that evening, with officials reportedly believing the child had been in the car since 9:30 a.m. that morning.
When the external temperature reaches 85 degrees, the inside temperature of a vehicle can reach in excess of 135 degrees, according to experts on child safety.
“Along with recalls and car seat checks, I talk to them about the dangers of heat stroke,” said Knops of another topic breached during the checks. “To date, there have been nine deaths this year alone.”
She said one of those was a child who was left in a running car with the heat on too high in the winter months.
Knops said those transporting children should always check the back seats of their vehicle before locking it and walking away.
She also recommended leaving a stuffed animal or some other reminder of the child in the car seat when it’s empty and then moving that to the front seat as a visual reminder of the child when he or she is buckled in the back seat.
Also, if there is someone else driving the child or a normal daily routine is altered, Knops recommended to always check to be sure a child has arrived safely to their destination.
“Anyone who sees a child in a car, call 911. No child should be left in a car for even one minute,” Knops said, noting that even with older children, there is no way for someone to know if that is a special needs child.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.