As a way to help keep children in the community safer, South King Fire & Rescue has started a car seat safety inspection program.
The fire department offered its first inspections on March 2 and assisted a couple of families in ensuring their children’s seats were properly installed. The free inspections will be offered once a month, although exact dates have not been set.
South King Fire & Rescue Lt. Brad Chaney, who was one of three firefighters from the department to recently go through the car seat inspection training, said the department saw the need for the program.
“There seems to be a little bit of a story that goes around when new parents are getting car seats to go by the fire station and they will install it for you,” he said. “We are more than happy to, but we didn’t have any more knowledge or qualifications than what the parents had. … This is just another way for us to make sure the kids are safe and they are being taken care of as much as possible.”
The three firefighters from South King Fire & Rescue underwent 32 hours of training and are required to complete supervised inspection throughout the year and keep up with ongoing training.
During the inspections, which take about 30 minutes per seat, trained inspectors make sure car seats are properly installed and the right fit for the child using them. They also teach parents how to put them in correctly.
“(Car seats) are tested to certain specifications,” Chaney said. “That is how they maximize the safety, so we are just making sure that the parents are following exactly the way it is set up, so they are getting the full safety out of the car seat itself.”
Inspectors also check for any recalls on the car seats during the inspection.
Nicole Salvacion brought her 21-month-old son Carter’s car seat in for an inspection on March 2.
“I learned how to make it really, really tight and secure and adjust the shoulder straps,” she said, adding that she now feels more confident in her abilities to make sure the seat is properly installed.
Improperly installed car seats can result in injuries during an accident.
“The common mistakes are straps are too loose. The car seat being a little loose may not be a factor as much, but it does work better if it is tight enough,” said Lt. Haksoo Kim, who is also trained to do the inspections. “If they have bulky jackets on and they slip out of their jackets, they can actually come out of their car seat during an accident. We have seen that a couple of times.”
Other common mistakes parents make when it comes to car seats are moving a child from rear-facing to forward-facing too soon or not having a child in a booster seat when they transition out of a car seat, Chaney said.
“It is better for them to be rear facing than forward facing when they are smaller. Neck stability, muscle strength, all that stuff plays into it,” he said.
Car seats should never be placed in the front seat of a vehicle, Chaney added.
With so many different types of car seats to choose from, Chaney said, finding the best one can be overwhelming.
“The most important thing is getting a car seat that you know you can install correctly every time,” he said. “If it is too complicated for you and you’ve got so many bells and whistles, maybe that’s not the car seat for you. We don’t want to risk it being installed incorrectly.”
Parents should be cautious when purchasing a used car seat, Chaney said.
“The biggest thing you want to know is whether or not it has been involved in a car accident,” he said. “That is really a huge deciding factor. We understand there are budget restraints for everybody. You just have to trust your gut and trust that person.”
South King Fire & Rescue can provide a list of resources to help parents who may not be able to afford a car seat.
For more information about the car seat safety inspection program, call 253-839-6234, or visit facebook.com/SouthKingFire/.