By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterAugust 4, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Although summer vacation is winding down, soaring temperatures are still as present as ever, and those high temperatures can be deadly when combined with inattentive eyes.
Every year people hear stories of children and pets left unattended in cars during the hot summer months, and although it may not be the intention of parents to leave their children and pets in harm's way, that bit of negligence can prove to be a deadly mistake, according to Joy McCormick, social worker with the Fort Rucker New Parent Support Program.
"Most children who are left in a vehicle were not left intentionally," she said. "It is usually a person who is not in the routine of taking a child with them who accidently forgets about a child in the back seat."
Oftentimes children may fall asleep or not make any noise, causing a person to possibly forget the child is back there, said McCormick, adding that negligence can have deadly consequences.
Since 1990, at least 775 children have died of vehicular heat stroke with 24 deaths having occurred in 2016 alone, according to www.kidsandcars.org.
According to the website, the inside of a vehicle can heat up very quickly on a hot day, even with the windows cracked, reaching temperatures of up to 125 degrees in just minutes.
Many times children are left in cars either because a parent or caregiver may be sleep deprived or exhausted, or decided he or she was going to run into a store for "just a minute," but those minutes can be the difference between life and death for a child or pet left in a car, McCormick said.
"The inside of a car can heat up within seconds of the ignition being turned off, especially in the heat we experience in the South," she said. "A child's body overheats three to five times faster than an adult body, so it doesn't take long for the situation to be life threatening for a child left in a vehicle. Even with the outside temperature in the 60s, the inside of the car can heat up to well over 110 degrees in a matter of minutes."
Death can occur in a matter of minutes if a child is left in a non-running vehicle, said the social worker. The child first becomes dehydrated and then possibly experience heat cramps, which is soon followed by heat exhaustion, which, when untreated, leads to heat stroke. The situation becomes critical if heat exhaustion is reached and not reversed quickly, and can lead to permanent disability such as brain damage and death.
Sometimes people can get distracted or even forgetful of the child being in the car, and McCormick suggests, to help prevent that level of distraction, to leave reminders that the child is in the vehicle.
"It is easy to get distracted," she said. "One thing that is suggested to assist with the situation is to put something that you normally carry with you, such as a name tag, purse, or brief case, in the back seat so you have to open the back door to get it out. This will help remind you of the child in the back seat.
"Or put the diaper bag or a stuffed animal in the front seat beside you so it reminds you of the child in the back seat," said the NPSP social worker. "This is a serious situation. Not only can a child lose its life, but legal charges can be made against the person leaving the child unattended in the car."
McCormick said that it's not always a parent leaving a child in a locked car that leads to vehicular heat stroke, but increasingly it's children who have found themselves entering an unlocked vehicle and not able to get out.
"The child safety locks may be in place and will not allow the door to be re-opened, or the child may not know how to get the shut door open," she said. "It is recommended that you lock your car doors when you get out of it, even in the garage or driveway, and put the keys where children cannot get to them. Never leave a child alone in or around a vehicle, even for a minute."
If a person finds a child in a car unattended and they seem to be at risk, they shouldn't hesitate to get involved, said McCormick. They should get the child out of the car as quickly as possibly and call 911 or the local emergency number to get immediate assistance.