Kent Fire Department reminds parents to keep children out of hot, parked vehicles

After last week's hot temperatures, the Kent Fire Department wants to remind parents and guardians of the dangers of leaving children in vehicles or allowing children to play in unattended vehicles.

Children left unattended are at great risk at any time due to elevated temperatures inside vehicles, according to a Kent Fire Department media release.

Studies have shown that an outside temperature of 80 degrees can result in vehicle passenger compartments exceeding 130 degrees in as little as one hour.

Children are much more prone than adults to suffer from overheating or hyperthermia, where external conditions overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate internal temperature. The result can be disorientation, rapid heart rate, loss of consciousness, and death.

Nationally, approximately 37 children die from hyperthermia in vehicles each year. The majority of these children are very young (less than 3 years old), according to San Francisco State University study between 1998 and 2009.

Fifty-one percent of children who died from hypertermia in vehicles are "forgotten" in the vehicle by the caregiver; 30 percent were playing in an unattended vehicle; 18 percent were intentionally left in the vehicle; and 1 percent died from other circumstances.

The SFSU study shows that the majority of children who died in an overheated vehicle were left there accidentally, not intentionally. Changes in routine, busy schedules, and people unaccustomed to transporting young children are all reasons why children get left behind.

Leaving a child under the age of 16 in a running vehicle is a violation of Washington State law (RCW 46.61.685) and is not a safe alternative – even with the air conditioning on.

A child could accidentally put the vehicle in motion and injure themselves or others.

Kent Police Sgt. Pat Lowery said a caregiver who leaves a child in a vehicle can be charged with reckless endangerment.

Help make sure a child is safe by:

• Never leave a child in a vehicle – even to run a “quick errand”

• Always check the backseat when exiting a vehicle

• Place your purse or briefcase in the backseat as a reminder

• Set electronic calendars to remind you to check on your child’s location

• Never allow children to play in or near parked vehicles and never allow a child to get into the trunk

• If you cannot find your child, look in your vehicle first

• Keep your vehicle locked when not in use

If you see an unattended child in a vehicle, call 911.

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