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The science of seat belts

Reid Wiliams

BRECKENRIDGE – All the talk about sewn-on slide plates and automatic locking retractors might have sounded more like surgery than seat belts, but the child car seat safety inspecting class is that complicated.

Twenty-three firefighters, police officers, ambulance technicians, health care providers and citizens began an inspector certification class at Red, White and Blue Fire Departments north station Tuesday. Instructors bring enough information to fill four days of class, and the knowledge is valuable enough to attract students from Front Range hospitals and neighboring counties, in addition to local agencies.

Breckenridge Police Officer Corinne Purucker, for one, was overwhelmed by the volume of knowledge she never imagined existed.

“I had no idea,” Purucker said, inspecting a seat belt to determine what type of locking mechanism helps hold passengers in place. “Even in my own car, this was something I never thought about.”

The four-day training was organized by the local chapter of SafeKids, a national organization that promotes child safety with awareness projects such as car seat inspections, gun lock distributions and bike helmet programs. The organization estimates that as much as 80 percent of child safety seats are improperly installed.

Purucker said she would use what she learned in the class to train other officers in her department to look out for children’s safety.

“We want to have someone on every shift trained so that there’s always someone that can inspect a car seat for parents,” she said. “This is something that every officer can do, even on a routine traffic stop, to make the public more aware.”

Emergency service personnel are used to frequent training classes, but were surprised the class would last four days. Summit County Ambulance training officer Mike Stern said the first morning of training eliminated a lot of questions about how the instructors would fill the time.

“People don’t realize there’s four or five different kinds of seat belt mechanisms,” Stern said. “That’s just in the cars. We cover the legal aspects of it, the car seats, of course, how to install them, and we do a lot of hands-on exercises with the students’ cars so they have examples to look at.”

Stern added he had to turn away a dozen would-be inspectors from the class. He said he guessed the training is attractive to emergency service providers “because a majority of the ones in public safety have seen a kid that’s been in an accident or have kids themselves.”

Silverthorne Police Department’s Sgt. Mark Hanschmidt and Officer Mark Watson – both fathers themselves – know exactly what Stern was talking about.

“It makes you wonder if you put yours in right back then,” said Watson, father of a 9-year-old. “There’s so much that can go wrong.”

Hanschmidt said the worst part of his job is seeing kids get hurt. “But if we save one life by what we learn here, then the class is well worth it,” he said.

The students’ training will culminate with a public child safety seat inspection from 2-4 p.m. Friday. The inspection will be held in the parking lot of the Frisco Wal-Mart and is free. Parents should bring their car seat and the car’s owner’s manual. Inspections also can be made by appointment at most local fire departments, ambulance service, medical centers, police agencies and the Colorado State Patrol.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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