ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg’s newest slogan, “The Sun Shines Here,” took on a more menacing meaning Monday as fire and rescue officials discussed the increase in calls for children trapped in sweltering vehicles.
Since April 2013, there have been 183 emergency responses for children locked in cars in Pinellas County, with 189 children involved in those calls, according to St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue officials.
St. Petersburg led the county with 32 percent of those calls. While none resulted in death or arrests, two of the children required medical care.
Only 10 minutes in a parked car could cause serious damage or death from heatstroke in an infant, said Beth Walford, a pediatric surgeon at All Children’s Hospital and medical director of the hospital’s Safe Kids Coalition. The smaller the child, the quicker they heat up,
A red Chevrolet Impala parked for 30 minutes at the Fire and Rescue Master Fire Station reached an interior temperature of 114 degrees, immune to the breeze that kept the outside temperature around 94 degrees. Statistics show the interior temperature in cars can rise 19 degrees every 10 minutes.
Local efforts to remind parents never to leave children in cars were sparked by two recent Florida deaths — a 2-year-old in Sarasota and a 9-month-old in Rockridge, Deputy Fire Marshal Lt. Steve Lawrence said.
“We need to get the word out that we can’t leave children alone in cars, even if we think it’ll just be a minute,” Lawrence said.
It takes about 14 minutes for rescue workers to respond to a call. People are asked to report whenever they see a child left alone in a vehicle. Also, “Where’s Baby?” hangers for rear-view mirrors are available at city fire stations to remind drivers about their child passengers.
“The idea I like the best is to take off a shoe when you put your child in the back seat so when you have to get out of the car to get to wherever your going, you’ll step out of your car and think, ‘Where did my shoe go? Oh, it’s in the backseat with my most important item, my child,’” Lawrence said.
This year, 13 children have died of heatstroke in locked cars, according to a San Francisco State University study. In 2013, at least 44 children died in vehicles and, in 2012, there were 34 child deaths, according to the study. Since 1998, there have been at least 619 documented heatstroke deaths, about 38 deaths a year. In about 52 percent of those cases the parent or responsible adult simply forgot the child was there, according to the university. In about 29 percent of cases, the child was playing in an unattended vehicle, and in about 18 percent the child intentionally l was eft in the vehicle by an adult.