A simple piece of paper might help reduce heatstroke deaths: that’s the hope of some groups here in Transylvania County.
Back in June, Chris Biecker, director of Moody-Connolly Funeral Home and chairman of the Transylvania County Board of Health, and his wife Suzy created tags warning “Precious Cargo: Don’t Forget Me!” with an image of a baby on one side and a pet’s paw print on the other that are designed to hang from the rearview mirror of vehicles to increase driver awareness of the dangers of hot cars. Printing was provided by CopyWorks of Brevard.
Then Biecker got the Transylvania County Department of Public Health, the Brevard Police Department and the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Department on board to support the campaign.
“I see this as community-level advocacy for our most vulnerable children,” Biecker said.
An average of 38 children have died in hot cars each year in the U.S. since 1998 and 13 have died so far this year. More than half of these heat stroke deaths occurred because a caregiver left the child in the car unintentionally, but another 20 percent happen because the child was intentionally left in the car. About 30 percent of deaths occur because the child got in the car without anyone knowing and couldn’t get out.
When the outside temperature is in the 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes. But heatstroke can take place when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees, and cracking the windows or not parking in direct sunlight does not make a car significantly cooler.
Heatstroke is most dangerous for infants and children under 4 years old. Children’s bodies heat up faster on a hot day (and lose heat more rapidly on a cold day) and are less able to lower their body temperature by sweating compared to adults. Very high body temperatures can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs. Heatstroke begins when the body can no longer control its temperature: the sweating mechanism fails and it is unable to cool down. A body temperature of 107 degrees is lethal.
Pets are also in danger of heatstroke if left in a vehicle. They are affected not just by the ambient temperature, but also by humidity. If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves by panting and body temperatures can rise very quickly. Like humans, pets can also suffer organ damage and death from overheating.
“We want to make sure that people to know that it’s never okay to deliberately leave a child or pet in a car—not even on cool or cloudy days,” Biecker said. “And we want to provide a reminder to parents to take additional steps to ensure that children cannot accidently be left behind or get into a car by themselves.”
These steps might include asking childcare providers to call if the child does not arrive as usual, checking in with a spouse or partner to make sure a drop-off went as planned or leaving something such as a briefcase, purse, phone or even a shoe in the back seat next to the child.
Everyone should lock doors and trunks to keep children from getting inside the vehicle by themselves and make a habit of looking in both the front and back before leaving the vehicle.
If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call 911. If the child appears to be in distress, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible and cool them down rapidly.
“We applaud the Board of Health and community ownership for this heartfelt effort,” said Elaine Russell, health director of Transylvania County Department of Public Health. “We hope that this will raise awareness around this important issue.”
The hangtags are available at Moody-Connolly Funeral Home on Caldwell Street, the Transylvania County Department of Health on East Morgan Street, the Brevard Police Department on West Jordan Street, and the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Department on Public Safety Way (off Morris Road), the Transylvania County Administration Office on South Broad Street, or CopyWorks of Brevard on North Caldwell Street.