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Summer heat indexes are hitting 110 degrees and above according to daily weather reports. Awareness of the dangers the rising temperatures can have on individuals or pets left in a parked vehicle becomes critical when hypothermia, a condition where the body absorbs more heat than it can handle, quickly sets in.
In the last year, the Mission Fire Department has responded to approximately 48 calls of a child locked in a vehicle. Most incidents occurred at area Wal-Marts and H-E-Bs, according to Deputy Chief Rene Lopez Jr. He said none of the incidents were life threatening, but the potential is always there.
When responding to a call, Lopez said that department personnel must make life and death decisions based on the situation. If extrication takes longer than five minutes or if the child is in distress, they will break windows to gain access.
The longer a child stays in a hot vehicle, the more hazardous it becomes. A small child, or pet, cannot handle the heat as well as an adult can, said Lopez. But, if the vehicle is on, with the air conditioning running, fire fighters can take their time.
In 2005, a clinical instructor of emergency medicine, an associate professor of emergency medicine, and an independent certified consulting meteorologist conducted a study of how hot it gets in cars on a mild day. They were already aware of the factors of being in a parked car when it was hot outside.
There were cases of children dying on days as cool as 70 degrees, according to Catherine McLaren, MD.
Results showed that a car’s interior heats up an average of 40 degrees within an hour. Most of the heating was within the first half hour of parking the car, according to the study which can be found in the July 2005 issue of “Pediatrics.”
If it is sunny, the heating was worse. The air inside of a parked car heats up just like the sun warms up a greenhouse during the winter.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States. These deaths occur in cars, in homes, and in normal circumstances from heat exhaustion and heat stroke as well.
The NWS maintains a chart showing the temperature and relative humidity. As an example, if the air temperature is 96 degrees and relative humidity is 65 percent, the heat index is 121 degrees. These numbers, according to the NWS, were devised for shady, light windy conditions. Exposure to full sun can increase heat index values by up to 15 degrees.
Combined with the “Pediatrics” research, values show that the air in a parked vehicle could rise between 136 to 175 degrees within an hour using the heat index of 121 degrees.
The hazards of excessive heat can range from muscle cramps to dehydration to death depending on the length of exposure. Being in an enclosed vehicle, even on a mild day, can be dangerous for children, pets, and even adults, says the NWS.
NWS shares information on their website, http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/heat/index.shtml, including information about some deaths of children left in vehicles on mild days.
A three-year-old died after being left in a vehicle for an hour and a half. The outside temperature was only 81 degrees that day in Hawaii.
Two died after being left in a vehicle for over three hours in Colorado. Investigators believe the temperature could have risen to 123 inside the vehicle. An adult passed away after falling asleep in his parked vehicle in 2001.
A 33-year-old mother from Brownsville was charged with manslaughter in July, 2011, after her 3-year-old son wandered out of the house and climbed into a non-working van parked at the home. The rest of the family was watching TV inside the home. He was apparently unable to get out of the vehicle once he got in. More than two hours passed before the child was found.
According to the Brownsville Herald, NWS service said it was about 90 to 91 degrees that day. They estimated the temperatures could have risen to 130 degrees inside the van. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/articles/manslaughter-128499-mother-inside.html)
Parents and pet owners are cautioned to make it a habit when stepping out of a vehicle to always look in the back seat and make sure it is empty before leaving the vehicle and closing and locking the doors.
Even for short trips into a convenience store or supermarket — take the child inside. Any discomfort they experience from the heat outweighs the rationalized inconvenience—and may avoid an unnecessary tragedy because the responsible adult becomes distracted and “forgets” the child.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.