FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Leaving children, elderly or pets in vehicles can lead to heat stroke or death, said Lt. Nicholas Pietila, Traffic Management and Collision Investigations, Installation Provost Marshal Office.
Residents who suspect someone or a pet is in danger of heat injury from being locked in a hot car should immediately reach out to the police, Pietila said.
Hot car dangers
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, reports children dying in hot cars has increased over the last few years.
The majority of these deaths happen because someone forgot the child in the car. Pietila said in his experience most calls that come from this type of emergency are simply because a parent got out of the car and locked it without realizing the keys were in his or her pocket or purse.
It’s an easy mistake that anyone could make, he said, but if that happens, it’s imperative that parents or caregivers reach out to law enforcement immediately to remedy the situation, especially with the record-breaking heat the region is experiencing this summer.
“The first thing we’ll call for is a lock out and call the tow truck company to come and open the doors, which is OK if a parent has locked a child in the car by accident and the air conditioning is on, which we’ve had happen,” Pietila said. “The kid might be scared but they aren’t in any danger.”
If the situation is deemed an emergency, the military police will not hesitate to take more serious action to save the individual or animal inside the vehicle, he said.
“If it was different and the air is off, it’s going to take about 10 minutes for the tow truck to get there and it’s going to take him another 10 minutes to open it, so we’re not going to wait and someone is going to request authorization to forcibly extricate the person or animal in the vehicle,” Pietila said. “We carry tools that give us the means to break open a car window and then we’d open the door that way and get the person or animal out.”
The MPs will assess the situation based on what can be observed through the car window before making a decision, he said.
“We know the air conditioning is not running if the car is not on so we’re definitely looking for that and we’re also going to look at the person or animal that is in the car to check for signs of distress, such as panting, profuse sweating, redness in the face, crying, or loss of consciousness,” Pietila said.
A couple minutes in a hot car might not sound serious, he said, but a car can heat up quickly without air conditioning, making for a deadly situation.
According to the NHTSA, “the temperature inside a car can reach over 115 degrees when the outside temperature is just 70 degrees,” exceeding what the body can handle.
This is especially true for infants because their bodies are not yet equipped to regulate heat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Cell damage and destruction begins at 107 degrees.
In the majority of cases, hot car calls are accidents parents or caregivers immediately take accountability for and end reasonably well. Unfortunately, some calls are because of neglect and aside from having potentially tragic consequences, there are legal consequences that come with it.
“If we have to break a person or animal out of a car, that person is going to be held responsible for having their window replaced, and we are making contact with child protective services, elderly protective services, or an animal shelter to remove the child, the elder or animal from their care,” Pietila said. “There will be a whole lot of people getting involved and that individual will be apprehended and transported to the MP station, and they are going before a judge, regardless of what the charges are.”
What to do
Pietila said sometimes bystanders are the ones to make calls to MPs about a potential hot car issue, and that in general, it is wise not to take the matter into their own hands.
“We don’t advise people to take matters into their own hands because they aren’t protected by law or granted the type of authority to take action,” he said. “Understand there could be liabilities if they are incorrect, so generally speaking it is not a good idea to take matters into their own hands. They should call us and let us do our jobs and we’ll be there in minutes.”
The average response time is seven minutes or less, Pietila said, and as such the community should trust that the MPs will arrive quickly if there’s a concern about a child, elder or pet that has been left in a hot car.
Pietila added community members shouldn’t fear consequences if they’re wrong because sometimes it’s hard to determine if a running car has air conditioning on or not. In that case, call the MPs anyway, he said, as a precaution.
“If you see something, say something,” he said. “We’d rather go to a call that wasn’t as serious as someone thought it was than not get called to something that is serious.”