SELLERSBURG — Local first responders took part in a dangerous demonstration Thursday to help bring awareness to how quickly a car can be hot to children or pets left inside.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Carey Huls and Jefferson County, Ky. Public Information Officer J.T. Yuodis both took part in the exercise at the ISP Sellersburg post. Just after 12:30, they and another participant had their vital signs checked by New Chapel EMS staff, who were on standby in case they would need treatment.
They then sat in a closed police cruiser, which was turned off, to show how quickly it would heat up. The temperature outside was 81 degrees F but within 16 minutes, the trio emerged with sweat pouring down their faces, the internal temperature having reached 120 degrees F.
“Definitely light-headed,” Yuodis said as he got out of the car. “I was almost lethargic there at the end.”
Huls noted that his blood pressure had risen, and said when he got out, “it felt cool, like it was a chilly day outside.”
The point of the exercise was to drive home that in an even short amount of time, a small child could be severely injured or could die from the quick heat. On average, around 38 children die due to heat in closed cars across the U.S. each year, Huls said, with 2018 and 2019 being higher. Far more children could survive but suffer serious injuries including brain damage.
“Heat stroke can affect different people differently too so whether it’s affecting the brain or different parts of the body it can have long-term effects,” he said, adding that a child’s body can get to dangerous temperatures three to five times faster than an adult’s.
The two said they wanted people to be aware of not leaving a child in a car even for a few minute to go into a store. They also said a lot of reports come after a person’s routine is thrown off and they may unintentionally leave the child in the vehicle.
“They’re taking a kid to day care they don’t normally take to day care and they get to work and they forget and it is that quick,” Yuodis said. “Within a matter of a few minutes, the car temperatures raise 10, 15, 20 degrees.
“So a lot of times what we’ll see is parents running into the store really quickly, a lot of times people have those key fobs, they walk away from the car, the car shuts off. By the time they come back someone has either broken the window to get the child out of the car or they realize my child is experiencing some type of heat-related emergency and they call 911, they’re panicking.”
He said as a first responder “most of the time when we respond to these calls, the child is doing one of two things — sleeping or screaming,” he said. Because they’re kind of in that limbo stage where they’re panicking because their parents have walked away [and] suddenly we show up with all this shiny stuff and loud objects and we’re trying to get into the car as quick as we can.
“Or we see the child is in fact sleeping because they have heat exhaustion that is so severe at this point they’re on the way to being unconscious.”
The first order of business is to get the child cooled as quickly as possible, as they take them for further treatment.
“That’s also cooling armpits, groin, back of neck to try to bring body temperature back down because it’s a life-threatening emergency,” Yuodis said.
Huls said that it can often be children playing hide and seek in a car, and that parents should have conversations with them about this. He added that prevention requires awareness and vigilance and can happen to people who think it wouldn’t.
“People say ‘I just can’t see how that could happen and I would never do that,’” he said. “It’s happened to the children of doctors, police officers, lawyers, schoolteachers, all the professions you would think they would know and wouldn’t do something like that, it’s happened.”