Last year, the Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue checked 1,452 car seats and found that about 80 percent of them were installed incorrectly. “Out of 1,452 only 300 and change were right,” said Bob Wall, a public education coordinator for the Department of Fire and Rescue.
While it’s clear that people are not using their child safety seats correctly, Wall said it’s easy for them to learn how to do better. “A lot of people don’t even realize that their child safety seats are wrong.”
Every firefighter and emergency medical technician working for the County goes through a week of training on how to teach people the correct way of installing car seats. During their training they learn every configuration of every car and the properties and specifications of every type of car seat they are likely to see in the field when parents come to them for advice.
“All of our fire stations have people trained to educate people on how to use car seats,” Wall said. “We educate parents on how to use their particular seat.”
Firefighters and EMTs look for selection, direction, location and installation. Correct selection means that people have chosen the correct car seat for their child. Sometimes, for instance, parents don’t realize that their children have outgrown their car seats. When that happens, seat selection becomes incorrect.
Location means that the car seat is placed correctly in the car. Firefighters and EMTs look to see if the car seat is in the front or the back seat and if it’s near an air bag. The direction of the car seat is important as well. Sometimes the child safety seat should face the rear of the car. At other times, it’s appropriate for the child seat to face forward.
“We also look at installation of the child into the seat. Are they harnessed in correctly? Are the harnesses tight enough? Are the harnesses in the right position for that seat?” Wall said.
Parents can read up on car seat installation, but if that’s not enough they can turn to the pros.
“The first thing is to read the owner’s manual for their child seat. If they still have questions, they should go by one of our firehouses. All of our firehouses have people that are nationally certified and trained to teach them how to put their car seats in. If the parents don’t know how to do it, they need somewhere to turn,” Wall said. “That’s why we do what we do.”
Wall said properly installing child safety seats is imperative. “The number one killer of people in America is traffic crashes. The number two killer – unintentional deaths of children – is traffic crashes.”
Interested parents can visit any fire station in the county during the day Monday through Friday, but they should call first to make sure that people are there and not out on an emergency call.
Parents can find the closest fire station by visiting the department’s website at www.pwcgov.org/fire