OKEECHOBEE — Two young children were very lucky this week as they were safely removed from two hot, locked vehicles in separate incidents in Okeechobee County.
So far, in 2016, 29 children have died from heatstrokes after being left in a hot car. Last year, a total of 24 children died as a result of being left in a car.
Sunday, Sept. 11, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) Deputy Ryane Ammons responded to Dollar General, 1640 S.R. 70 W., where a 2-year-old was locked in a 2007 black Honda.
Apparently the child’s mother and another woman got out of the vehicle and when they tried to open the rear driver’s-side door it was locked. The mother immediately contacted the sheriff’s office.
When the deputy arrived around 3:42 p.m. the child’s mother estimated her daughter had been locked in the vehicle for about 3 minutes. The outside temperature at the time would have been around 88 degrees, according to the AccuWeather web site.
The child’s mother and a friend were trying to unlock the vehicle’s doors, but couldn’t.
“The child was in the rear driver’s-side seat (and) secured in a child-restraint seat. I attempted to unlock the passenger side front door with a vehicle unlock kit,” stated the deputy.
As seconds ticked away, Deputy Ammons became more and more concerned for the child’s safety.
“I ordered (the mother) to gain the attention of the child. As the child turned to look at (her mother) I broke the rear passenger window of the vehicle to gain access,” Deputy Ammons stated. “It should be noted, as the child was removed from the vehicle her face was red.
“Within a short amount of time the child’s color had returned and the child was acting normal,” he added.
Deputy Ammons went on to point out that even though he was able to grasp the door handle the door would not open by pulling on the handle or pressing the unlock button.
“I was forced to break the rear passenger window,” he continued.
Once the child was out of the vehicle, she was placed on her feet and began to walk. She was also given a sports drink.
The second incident occurred Tuesday, Sept. 13, when OCSO deputies Frank Baum and Matt Grumbling responded around 7:57 p.m. to a similar situation at a mobile home park on N.E. 72nd Circle.
OCSO reports indicate a 1-year-old child was locked in a vehicle that was not running. As the deputies tried to open the vehicle they noticed the child was starting to sweat.
Fortunately, they were able to open the vehicle and safely remove the child.
All too often these situations do not end with the child being safely rescued.
Since 1998, 690 children in the U.S. have died of heatstroke after being left in a locked vehicle, stated a report by Jan Null with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University.
According to that report between the years of 1998 and 2015 the children that have died of heatstroke ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years. More than half of those deaths are children under the age of 2. The highest percentage of those deaths are children under 1 year old (32 percent, or 208) and 1-year-old children (22 percent, or 146).
The report goes on to point out that during the reporting period 54 percent (356) of the children who died were forgotten by their caregiver, while 189 children were left to play in an unattended vehicle and another 111 children were intentionally left in a vehicle by an adult.
In 10 minutes, the temperature inside a vehicle rises by 19 degrees Fahrenheit. In 20 minutes, the inside temperature goes up by 29 degrees, while in 30 minutes the inside temperature can go up by 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
With an outside temperature of 80 degrees, the temperature inside a vehicle will reach 123 degrees in 60 minutes.
During the reporting period (1998-2015) Texas led the nation with 100 children dying from vehicular heat stroke, stated Ms. Null’s report. Florida was second with 72. So far this year, those rankings are holding true.
The report documents six deaths in Texas and four deaths in Florida for 2016.
From 1998 through 2014, continued the report, 636 infants and children died of heatstroke inside a hot car. The report went on to point out 115 infants and children were accidentally forgotten by their fathers, while 98 children died because their mother accidentally forgot them.
In Florida this year: with an outside temperature of 92 degrees, a 23-month-old boy died Sept. 9 in Palm Harbor; with an outside temperature of 94 degrees on July 22, a 3-year-old boy died in Navarre; a 2-year-old boy died in Fort Pierce on July 15 after being left in a vehicle when the outside temperature was at 90 degrees; and in Hialeah, an 11-month-old baby died May 23 after being left in a vehicle when the outside temperature was 88 degrees.
The report defines heatstroke as a person’s temperature exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit and their thermoregulatory mechanism being overwhelmed. When a core body temperature reaches 107 degrees or more, cells are damaged and internal organs begin to shut down. A child’s thermoregulatory system is not as efficient as an adult’s and will warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s.
Some safety recommendations are:
• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle — not even for a minute.
• If you see a child unattended in a hot vehicle, call 9-1-1.
• Be sure all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies.
• Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat and when the child is put in the seat, place the animal in the front with the driver. Or, place your purse, briefcase or cell phone in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
• Always lock your car and make sure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices.
• Make ‘look before you leave’ a routine whenever you get out of the car.
• Finally, if a child is missing always check the pool first and then the car — including the trunk.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News