As the brutal summer heat continues, some alarming new data is showing an increase in children being left in hot cars.
Already this summer, MedStar has responded to nine incidents of kids who were left in hot cars since May 1, within their Tarrant County service area. They say even just one incident is too many.
"In weather like this, the inside of a car can get to be 150 degrees in 10 minutes, and people cannot survive, especially kids cannot survive that kind of temperature,” said Matt Zavadsky with MedStar.
None of the incidents were fatal but there were some close calls.
"We had one case where a child had an externally read body temperature that we use with an infrared thermometer of 105 degrees. And the child was unconscious, unresponsive, barely breathing,” said Zavadsky. “But thankfully due to rapid cooling and some IV fluids that were also cooled, we were able to cool that patient's body temperature down pretty rapidly. But you know, another five or six minutes without us being called, it could have had a totally different outcome."
According to MedStar’s data, those nine kids were all under 6 years old. This is a significantly higher frequency of these types of responses than they’ve experienced over the past four years.
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"Even in 2011, when we had that real hot spell, we didn't see this frequency of heat-related responses,” said Zavadsky.
These numbers are added on to the more than 650 heat-related illness calls they've responded to overall since May 1.
The same situation is being seen in Dallas.
According to Dallas Fire Rescue, crews have responded to a total of 159 calls for "person locked in a vehicle." DFR said it does not make a distinction in the dispatching data for the age of the person. However, a spokesperson said the vast majority are children.
For comparison, DFR responded to 117 calls in 2021 and 105 in 2020 – which confirms a significant increase in 2022’s data.
So far this summer, 13 deaths from children in hot vehicles have been reported nationwide, with two deaths in Texas.
MedStar believes the increases are coming from the huge population growth in Texas and a quicker intensity in heat that started even before the summer season officially began.
“We have a bunch of new residents that have moved here from other parts of the country. Our population has grown pretty dramatically. And this is our first really hot summer for a lot of those folks that may have moved here from places that don't have this kind of heat. It probably is taking them by surprise,” said Zavadsky.
He also believes economic and health issues have led to so many more distractions lately.
“There are so many things going on in the world. People are concerned about economic issues, they're concerned about inflation, they're concerned about family issues and health issues. Our regular 911 response volume has skyrocketed because people just have a lot more health and medical issues,” Zavadsky said. "This is a big deal. And you really need to pay attention to making sure that you've not left your kid in the car, even if there's 1,000 things running through your mind.”
Earlier this summer, Cook Children's in Fort Worth held a demonstration showing inside temperatures reaching 141 degrees in the middle of the afternoon.
"We've had a couple of cases where the child has gotten into a locked vehicle, without the caregiver knowing it. And that's something else you really need to remind people make sure you're securing your vehicle," said Zavadsky.
MedStar has some tips for everyone to keep kids safe:
- Put something like your cellphone, purse or employee id in the backseat so you have to go back there every time you park.
- Keep a large stuffed animal in the child's car seat. When the child is in their seat, put the stuffed animal in the front with you so you have a visual reminder.
- Keep car keys and remotes out of reach so kids don't sneak inside.
- Navigation apps like Waze also have a feature that reminds you to check the backseat when you arrive at your destination.
"Keep your head on a swivel both for the kid that you're taking care of,” said Zavadsky. “And when you're walking through a parking lot at work, at the store, at a mall – just look at every car that you walk past just to make sure that there's not something in there that shouldn't be in there."
And if you ever see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved and call 911 immediately. If the child seems hot or sick, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible.
"The 911 call taker will walk you through a process of trying to get into that vehicle and how to do it safely. Even if it requires breaking a window," said Zavadsky. "It's OK. If it's just to save that child's life, do not be afraid to take action if you have to, up to and including breaking that car window to get that kid out of the car."