Please stop dropping by the firehouse for car seat checks

Please stop dropping by the firehouse for car seat checks

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It's confusing -- even terrifying -- to install your child's car seat, so who could blame you for wanting help? Particularly since experts estimate that anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of seats are installed or used incorrectly.

But please: Don't just stop by your local firehouse to ask for help. Though parent word-of-mouth has it that there are experts standing by waiting to help with car seat installation and questions, in most cities that's just not the case. You'll just waste the firefighter's time (and your own).

Firefighter Christine Williams says that hapless parents continually ring her station's doorbell to ask for car seat help, and it stresses her out to have to say no, "but there's no one there trained to do what they need done." She says if our site could get parents to stop showing up, we'd be "a hero to all firefighters everywhere."

But hang on, I hear some of you saying, particularly if you happen to live in a state that's particularly proactive in matters of child passenger safety: I went down to my local fire house and got help, no problem!

That's because some states, and some cities, have used federal grant money to set up car seat safety programs centered on fire houses. Atlanta, Georgia, for instance, has a particularly robust program, "best in the nation," boasts William Hutchinson, Program Director of the Child Safety Seat Project, which has 33 "fitting stations" in fire stations throughout the city, open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

In other cities, the firefighters can give you little more than a blank look if you ask for help with your car seat. They were trained to fight fires and save lives, not to fit your particular car seat into your particular car.

Image courtesy Eli Meir Kaplan for Home Front Communications National Highway Traffic Safety Administration[/caption]

Hutchinson points out that locals are used to turning to firefighters for help. The stations are typically located in neighborhoods, and already offer services like blood-pressure checks, school visits, and CPR training. So it seems natural to also offer car-seat services there.

But it's tough to train firefighters and make sure they're always on staff, says Ohio Buckles Buckeyes Child Passenger Safety Region 5 Coordinator and Health Educator Ann Roderer. They don't work regular Monday-to-Friday shifts. It's hard to ensure that a firefighter who's taken the 40-hour Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) course is always on the clock. And even if there is someone at a firehouse trained to install car seats and they're working, they provide emergency services -- if they get a call, your car seat install drops down on the to-do list.

In Atlanta, Hutchinson explains, the way the city ensured a steady supply of firefighters certified to install car seats was to make it a part of firefighter training. "Just like they have to have EMS [Emergency Medical Services] training, they have to have CPST training to become a firefighter in Atlanta," Hutchinson says.

A professional car seat technician; image courtesy the NHTSA Images Library[/caption]

But even cities who do have good car seat safety programs, like Atlanta or Columbus, Ohio, where Roderer gets 35 to 40 calls a week from locals who want help with an installation or need a low-cost seat, need those who seek their services to call ahead of time, and to make appointments.

"Typically people call during their pregnancy, but I've also had calls from people that are 'I'm getting discharged from the hospital tomorrow,'" says Roderer. She can't help them -- there's a 3-4 week waiting list.

So who can help? Since almost every state gets federal funds for child passenger safety, there's probably an agency or two in your locality that offers free help if you live within driving distance to a city of any size. Enter your state or ZIP code at to find all the CPSTs in your area. Some offer free services, some will cost $50 and up depending on the installation.

By the way, many of the 524 comments on the Reddit post mocked parents who need help from anyone to install a car seat, offering thoughts along the lines of this charming opinion: "most fire stations also serve as drop off points for unwanted children, if you can't manage to install a car seat you're obviously a [gerund form of F-word redacted] idiot and should maybe consider just leaving the kid at the fire station."

Yeah. Sorta like people generally believe they're better drivers, better lovers, and have a better sense of humor than the average person. They call that illusory superiority but I wouldn't want to bet my child's safety on it.

Main image courtesy NHTSA Images Library

More on car seats and safety

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