Car seat inspections offer safety, confidence

Certified technicians go over finer points for parents in free sessions

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There are a lot of wrong ways to install a child's car seat.

Thankfully, there are a lot of folks who know the right way.

“Many, if not most, car seats are installed wrong or could use a touch-up,” said Kirsten Harbeck, a child passenger safety technician with the South Metro Safety Foundation, a subsidiary of South Metro Fire Rescue. “The seat might not be tight enough, or the harness might not be snug enough. Some people turn the car seat forward-facing too soon.”

South Metro hosts free car seat inspections at numerous firehouses across their district, Harbeck said, that go over everything a parent needs to know to install and use their car seat safely.

“It's a pretty robust appointment,” Harbeck said. “And it's important. Kids' lives are at stake here.”

Colorado law requires kids to sit in rear-facing car seats until they're one year old or 20 pounds, Harbeck said, but best practices recommend staying rear-facing “as long as the car seat allows.”

Other tips: take off kids' coats, which can create too much play between a child's body and restraint straps. Also, Harbeck said, many parents are unaware that car seats expire after a few years, when their plastic may become too brittle to effectively withstand a crash.

South Metro hosts car seat inspections at a rotating list of firehouses every Wednesday and every other Tuesday, said South Metro spokesman Eric Hurst, and the Colorado Department of Transportation's website lists dozens more, but even that may not be sufficient for parents who just bought a seat and need to use it right away.

“In a perfect world, everyone would be able to schedule an inspection,” Hurst said.

For those who can't, South Metro firefighters can do on-the-spot inspections after parents sign a waiver of liability, though most firefighters aren't certified technicians.

“If you've got time to schedule with an actual tech, you'll get a far better education,” Hurst said.

Denver Fire Department, which covers Englewood and Sheridan, does not provide car seat safety checks, according to the City of Denver's website.

Harbeck's insights proved reassuring to Rebecca Gitomer, who scheduled a half-hour inspection at South Metro's Trailmark station on Oct. 22, just a few days before Gitomer's due date for her first child.

“If I was ever in an accident where my child got hurt, I'd feel horrible if I felt like there was more I could've done,” Gitomer said. “This gave me a lot more confidence.”

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