Higher temperatures signal heat-safety awareness season - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Higher temperatures signal heat-safety awareness season

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Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 4:32 pm | Updated: 5:33 pm, Fri Apr 1, 2011.

The official start to summer is months away, but - with temperatures in the 90s this week - the heat-safety awareness season in Arizona is warming up.

Municipal and state agencies are kicking off drowning and vehicular-hyperthermia awareness projects.

"You have new parents and grandparents every year, and people moving from other parts of the country who might be unfamiliar with a pool and the heat here," said Michele Long, fire and life safety education specialist for the Mesa Fire Department. "And life happens. There will always be distractions."

And this year brings a new safety concern - fireworks. Their sale and use were legalized by the Legislature in 2010, although many cities have restricted use to such occasions as July 4 and New Year's Eve.

"Any time you take something prohibited for so many years and change that availability, there is concern," said Tomi St. Mars, injury prevention and child fatality manager with the Arizona Department of Health Services. "We will be watching it closely to see what happens. Now that they are more accessible, it just makes sense that we are going to see an increase in injuries."

A year-round concern is hyperthermia deaths of children left in vehicles. The nation's first such fatality occurred in Texas on March 8.

Last year, Arizona had three juvenile vehicular-heat deaths after none in 2009. There were four in 2008, three in 2007.

Jan Null, San Francisco State University meteorologist who tracks heat-related vehicular child deaths, said that the temperature inside a sun-soaked car goes up an average of 19 degrees in 10 minutes.

"It does not have to be a blazing hot day," Null said. "Two years ago, we had a death in the Bay area when it was 65 degrees outside."

In 2010, there were 49 such deaths in the U.S., as far north as Maine. The annual average since 1998 is 38.

In a world of cell phones and satellite radio and big to-do lists, there are plenty of distractions behind the wheel. St. Mars said that agencies have discussed advocating placing one's purse or briefcase in the back seat, so when one gets to a destination, he or she is reminded of the much more precious cargo there.

"I wish I had an easy answer," Null said. "People are very busy, but there are a lot of other parts of our everyday routine where we don't forget things, and what's more valuable in a person's life than a child?"

Null said that only half of the deaths are due to forgotten children. Thirty percent are from children getting into cars on their own; 20 percent are left in the vehicle "while the parent goes off and does something he or she thinks is more important."

Statewide drowning statistics from 2010 were not readily available. In '09, 35 people under age 18 died in Arizona; 27 were age 4 or younger.

The Chandler Fire Department commenced its drowning-prevention program this month. Mesa's begins in earnest with a water-safety kickoff at Kino Pool on April 9. In Gilbert, town officials have set a goal of no drownings in 2001 and are targeting 60,000 homes to receive prevention information in a "Walk For Water Safety" on April 30.

"You're always looking for creative ways to get the word out," Long said.

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