In the U.S., motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among children ages 12 and under, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hotchkiss EMT and volunteer firefighter Bev Shelten wants parents and guardians of young children to know that many of those deaths can be prevented.
Since 2009 Shelten has been certified as a child passenger safety technician through the Safe Kids Worldwide National Child Passenger Safety Certification Program. Shelten offers one-on-one personalized instruction on proper installation and use of car seats and booster seats. She is currently the only car seat technician in Delta County offering the service.
Child seats are specially designed to protect young children from injury or death in the event of an accident, and technology has made car seats very safe, said Shelten, who remembers when car seats hit the market. While early models provided little protection, "Today a child in a car seat can survive a very serious accident."
But if the seat isn't installed properly or the child isn't properly fitted for the seat, they might not be protected. With a few exceptions, "A proper installation of a car seat with a seat belt will always be safe," she said. To demonstrate the complexity of a proper fit, Shelten said certification requires completion of a four-day class. It's a big commitment, she said.
Those wanting to have their car seats inspected or a seat fitted can arrange to meet Shelten at the Hotchkiss fire station. Fittings are held in one of the bays, and parents should bring their car seat with them. In addition to fittings, Shelten can inspect older seats for proper fit. Car seats come with an expiration date and she can research to see if a particular seat has expired, or if it has been recalled. Car and booster seats that have been in an accident should be replaced.
The Fire District offers a program providing new car seats for parents and guardians who can't otherwise get one. Shelten said the program was the idea of fire chief Doug Fritz. After getting her certification she approached the HFD about becoming a sponsor, and Fritz jumped on board. The department holds regular fundraisers for purchasing the seats. These are quality car seats, and not the cheap ones, said Shelten. When parents pick up their seats she works with them for proper fitting and installation. "It's exciting when parents leave happy," she said.
Shelten urges people to research car seats before making a purchase. Because there are so many models and designs, one seat might work well in an SUV, but not fit in a small sports car. The cost of a quality car seat starts at over $50 and can run in the hundreds of dollars. Sadly, she said, some people spend a lot of money, only to find they purchased the wrong seat.
Expectant parents should plan on having a car seat fitted before the baby arrives, as many hospitals won't let them go home without one, said Shelten. "Just installing a car seat correctly takes time," she said. "And it takes a trained eye to tell if the car seat is properly secured."
Parents have a big responsibility for their child's safety and should understand the laws, she urged. She also urges parents to wear their seatbelts at all times. "Kids are watching," she said. In the event of an accident, an unbuckled driver or passenger can not only get hurt, but can injure others, something that she's witnessed firsthand as an EMT and volunteer firefighter
She would like to see more people take the four-day certification course and help raise awareness of child safety. She also urges owners to read the entire car seat manual, just as they would any manual. "Manufacturers publish that for a reason," she said. Once they purchase a restraint system she suggests parents visit the manufacturer's website regularly and keep track of recalls and other issues related to their specific model.
The HFD will hold a fundraiser for the car seat program from 5-7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at the Delta County Fairgrounds as part of the Winnie's Navajo Taco Night fundraiser dinner for Farm to Fiddle. Shelten will be on hand to answer questions. She can also be reached by calling the HFD at 872-3311, or through the Hotchkiss Fire District Facebook page.