Local group aiming to prevent child deaths due to heat

Last updated: July 20. 2014 2:35PM - 473 Views
By - wbyerly-wood@civitasmedia.com

In 92-degree heat (114-degree sitting in direct sun), Surry County Emergency Services Assistant Director Myron Waddell's car takes just 20 minutes to reach 108 degrees internally, enough to cause heatstroke and death.
In 92-degree heat (114-degree sitting in direct sun), Surry County Emergency Services Assistant Director Myron Waddell's car takes just 20 minutes to reach 108 degrees internally, enough to cause heatstroke and death.
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A child’s organs will begin shutting down at 104 degrees in a hot car, and at 107 heatstroke can cause death.

On Wednesday, Myron Waddell, assistant director of Surry County Emergency Services and a member of Safe Kids Surry County, parked his car outside of the Elkin Fire Department. In 92-degree heat and sitting in the sun 114-degree heat outside, it took just 20 minutes for the internal temperature of the car to reach 108 and for s’mores on a plate in the back seat to started melting.

At the same time, chocolate chip cookies sitting on the dash of the Elkin Fire Department’s closed SUV were beginning to bake in the hot sun.

While it may seem like a harsh reality, local emergency officials want to prevent child deaths due to heat this summer. Waddell noted that already this year, 15 children have died in the United States after being left enclosed in hot cars.

“We’re very fortunate in Surry County, we can take a proactive stance on the message rather than reactive,” said Elkin Fire Department firefighter Theresa Knops, also an instructor and member of Safe Kids Surry County.

Last year two children in North Carolina died — one in Brevard and another in Greensboro — due to heat exposure after being left in a car. Knops and Waddell said fortunately this has not happened in Surry County, although two children left in a vehicle in Mount Airy by their 26-year-old mother were saved in July 2012 thanks to onlookers who stepped in.

The mother was charged with felony child abuse and was convicted in 2013, receiving a suspended sentence. The children were dehydrated, but had no serious injuries, and DSS took charge of the children.

And the emergency officials want to get the message out to prevent heatstroke death from ever occurring.

“Look before you lock,” said Knops. “The key suggestion is to put something in the back seat you have to have when you get to your destination, whether it be a laptop bag, purse, cell phone.”

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is leading a “Look before you Lock” campaign, encouraging people, especially those who don’t routinely transport their children and are more likely to forget they are strapped in the back seat, to make sure they check their cars before they walk away from them.

Waddell said Safe Kids’ worldwide organization is using the acronym ACT to get the message across:

• A — Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child along in a car, not even for a minute.

• C — Create reminders by putting somthing in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final distination.

• T — Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call.

“Fire departments across the country are concerned about this,” Knops said. “And they are partnering with Safe Kids to combat it.”

A state-owned oversized thermometer that shows the public how hot a car can be inside and outside will be on display in Elkin during the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival in September and in Mount Airy during the Autumn Leaves Festival in October.

“These next few weeks are going to be critical,” Knops said of the upcoming Dog Days of Summer. “Children heat up three to five times faster than an adult.

“A lot of time this happens when someone not usually taking the kid to day care does.”

She suggested calling the day care the day before and asking them to call the parents if the child has not arrived by a certain time. “It’s OK to ask them to call,” Knops said.

“An April 2014 statistic shows 14 percent of parents say they have left a child alone inside a parked car despite the risk of heatstoke,” Waddell said.

Members of the Safe Kids Surry County group include Elkin Police Department, Elkin Fire Department, Surry County Sheriff’s Office, Surry County EMS, Northern Hospital of Surry County, Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital, Mount Airy Police Department, Mount Airy Fire Department, Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, Surry County Department of Social Services and HeadStart.

Safe Kids Surry County’s Facebook has more information on protecting children, and a video reenacting what would happen to a child left in a hot car.

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

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