JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Being inside a parked vehicle on a hot day where the temperature can reach more than 100 degrees can become a dangerous situation for children and pets left unattended by their parents and owners.
Awareness of the dangers of leaving children and pets unattended in a hot vehicle and efforts in preventing such instances from occurring are a focus of the Air Force Summer Safety Campaign.
Leaving a child or pet alone in a hot vehicle could lead to heatstroke, injury or death. In the U.S. each year, an average of 37 children die from heat-related deaths after being left in a parked vehicle, according to http://www.KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the safety of children in vehicles.
Since 1998, the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University reports 677 children left in vehicles in the U.S. have died from heatstroke, which occurs when the body reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to webmd.com, a heatstroke is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures and can damage or kill internal organs in the body, including the brain.
Staff Sgt. Dominick Fugazzi, 502nd Air Base Wing Safety Office safety technician at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, said an adult or parent should not leave a child unattended in a vehicle even for a short period of time.
“It’s never okay to leave a child in a car, period, even if it’s only for a few minutes and even if the car is left running,” Fugazzi said. “The safety and security of your children should be every parent’s number one priority. Leaving a child in a car unattended creates an extremely dangerous environment for numerous reasons.”
Even cracking the windows does not reduce the temperature inside a vehicle, which can increase over 20 degrees within 10 minutes and to 40 degrees within an hour.
For instance, on a 70-degree day, the temperature inside a vehicle could rise to 110 degrees Fahrenheit in an hour.
Children left alone in a hot vehicle are at risk for getting heatstroke because their bodies heat up quicker than adults, Fugazzi said.
“Young children are extremely vulnerable to suffering heatstroke because their bodies can heat up three to five times faster than an adult,” he said.
Other dangers for children left unattended in a vehicle include car theft that could lead to kidnapping or child abduction, seat belt strangulation, carbon monoxide poisoning if the vehicle is left running and vehicle fires, Fugazzi said.
Fugazzi said measures can be taken by adults and parents to prevent heat-related injuries or deaths include:
- Never leaving a child alone in a vehicle, not even for a minute, and making sure the vehicle is locked when an adult or parent is not present so children don’t get in it on their own and lock themselves in.
- Creating reminders by placing an object in the backseat of the vehicle next to the child, such as a briefcase, purse, cell phone or toy that is needed at the driver’s destination. This is important if the adult or parent is not following their normal routine.
- Taking action. If an individual sees a child alone in a vehicle, they should call 911 so that trained emergency personnel can come to the scene and save the child’s life.
Fugazzi said adults should get in the routine of “look before you lock,” checking to make sure there is no child in the backseat before they leave and lock up a vehicle. Parents and adults should keep vehicles locked at all times, even in driveways or garages, so that children can’t get into them on their own. Children may be able to lock the vehicle doors, but may not be able to unlock them, according to http://www.KidsAndCars.org.
In Texas, an adult can be charged with a misdemeanor if they intentionally leave a child in a vehicle for longer than five minutes if the child is younger than seven years of age and not with an individual who is 14 years of age and older.
A hot vehicle is also not suitable for a pet to be in. The American Veterinary Medical Association said hundreds of pets die each year from heat exhaustion after being locked in a vehicle.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Royce, 902nd Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, said a dog can get heatstroke or have their internal body organs damaged if their body temperature reaches 106 degrees Fahrenheit. A dog’s normal body temperature is between 101 and 102.5 degrees.
Royce said last year during the summer months from May to September, 902nd SFS patrol officers were called out two to three times a month for cases of pets, mainly dogs, being spotted in a locked vehicle by callers at the parking lots of the JBSA-Randolph commissary and exchange.
In all the cases, Royce said the dogs were found to be okay and officers were able to locate and contact the dog owners.
He said the pet owners who left their dogs in a vehicle while they went shopping didn’t feel they were harming them.
“They didn’t think it was hot enough to cause any damage to the animals,” Royce said. “Sometimes we got, ‘Well, I was only going to be in there for five to 10 minutes and then it ended up being 30 to 40 minutes.’”
Anyone who sees a pet unattended in a vehicle showing signs of heat stress should call law enforcement authorities immediately, according to the Humane Society of the United States. A caller who reports a pet in distress should get the vehicle’s license plate number, go to the nearest business to ask them to make a public announcement to locate the owner and go back and wait for authorities at the vehicle.
While Texas does not have a law prohibiting leaving a pet alone in a hot vehicle, Royce said pet owners could be charged with animal cruelty under state law if an officer finds the animal shows signs of distress, or doesn’t have adequate water or airflow in the vehicle.
At JBSA, people who notice a child or pet in distress in a vehicle should call 902nd SFS at JBSA-Randolph, 652-5700 or 5709; 802nd SFS at JBSA-Lackland, 671-3030; or the 502nd SFS at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, 221-2244. In cases of emergency off base, call 911.
Individuals would be better served leaving their pets at home and not leaving children alone in a vehicle, Royce said.
“Have some common sense,” he said. “I mean, would you want to sit in a vehicle with the windows up and with no air conditioning? If you wouldn’t want to do it, why would you want to put your children through that or your animals?”