It did not take long for the temperature gauge to climb to 110 and cross that threshold.
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and officials from the Department of Children and Families were holding a demonstration in the parking lot of Palm Coast’s Target shopping center this morning to show how quickly conditions inside an idled car can become dangerous for a child or a pet.
“Leaving a window open is not enough- temperatures inside the car can rise almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes, even with a window cracked open,” the Centers for Disease Control reports. It can happen even on mild or overcast days. And for children whose bodies are three to five times more susceptible to overheating than adults, the results can quickly be fatal: a child will have a heat stroke once a child’s body temperature reaches 104. When the child’s body temperature reaches 107, the child dies.
“So you pulled in, you’re doing shopping, your car was air-conditioned, maybe a child was sleeping in the back seat, they’re quiet, your mind is on other things, and you absently get out of the car, lock it, and leave,” Staly said.
It’s a grim tally, a scourge of every summer that claims the most innocent of lives in the most needless way, though it’s also a reflection of overwork and stress: toddlers left in a car while their parent or sibling or caretaker runs an errand, shops, checks in at work or just plain forgets that the child was in the back seat.
“It gets hot so fast, and when you think you’re just going to run in the store for just a minute, you’re usually in there for an average of 15 to 30 minutes,” says Patricia Medlock, regional director for the Department of Children and Families’ northeast region. “That’s kind of what it feels like to people, so please don’t leave your kids in the car.”
On Wednesday, a mother in Mason, Ohio, who had put in an eight-hour shift in an office, called 911 at close to 5 p.m. to report that her 15-month-old child, whom she’d left in the car that whole day, was dead.
The child was the 34th this year to die in that circumstance in the country, several in Florida. In Phoenix at the end of July, two children died in two days from being left in a car, in a city that sees about 10 such deaths a year. Earlier in July, the CEO of a hospital in Iowa, rushing to make meetings at work, left her 7-month-old daughter in her minivan. The child died.
In Pensacola last Friday, a 3-year-old died after being left in a car at a day care center with a dubious safety record. In Delray Beach, a 1-year-old boy died after being trapped in a car in mid-July. The child had been playing with other children outside. It wasn’t clear how he found his way into the car. A 1-year-old died in Pinecrest, in South Florida, after being left in a car for more than an hour on a February day when the high was in the low 80s.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, 661 children have died of heatstroke in cars between 1998 and 2015, an average of 39 a year. Of those, 356, or more than half, were “forgotten” in the car by their caregiver, almost a third were left unattended, playing in the car, and 111 were intentionally left in the car.
The closest to a death involving a child in such circumstances in Palm Coast occurred in mid-July two years ago, when a 4-year-old was found unresponsive in an SUV parked in front of a house in the Woodlands. Sheriff’s deputies arrived in time, and though the boy was initially in critical condition, he survived.
“I don’t think the community or parents understand how quick heat rises in a car in Florida,” Staly said. It’s kind of breezy today, it’s a little overcast and it’s 91 outside.” Even so, the conditions would have been deadly to a child left in a car. Heatstroke, the transportation safety board cautions, “can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees.”
Patricia Medlock, regional director for the Department of Children and Families, who was part of the demonstration, said drivers can take many safety measures to remind themselves of a child in the backseat. One example: “You don’t need to be texting and driving anyway so put your phone in the backseat, put your laptop in the backseat, something that will remind you to look before you go in.”
There are phone reminders, magnets, “check before you lock” reminders that can hang from rear-view mirrors, and that the department hands out free—and that may be stocked at the Sheriff’s Office.
The same reminders apply when pets are in cars. “With pets what we see generally is that people might lower the window an inch or two because they don’t want their pet stolen, and leave,” Staly said. Yet 41 dogs have died in cars so far this year, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“Those are tragic cases,” Staly said. “Those are cases that parents will probably never recover from or in some cases they were day care vehicles where the parents had taken their kid. So you need to put a reminder on your phone, always check your back seat, something in the back seat that will cause you to look back there, maybe put on your phone a little calendar, a notice, something that will trigger you to always remember.”
It isn’t incorrect when SafeKids.org states that “these tragedies are 100 percent preventable.”