By Nancy Rineman
Atlantic News, Thursday, March 6, 2003
[Atlantic News Photo by Nancy Rineman]
HAMPTON - The Hampton Fire Department has added one more component to its list of services this week, by being officially designated as a Child Passenger Seat Safety Inspection center.
Jo-Ellen Courtney, Child Passenger Safety Specialist for the State of New Hampshire, said Hampton is one of fewer than 20 such centers in the state. Courtney was in Hampton, Tuesday for the official announcement of the program, which is funded in part by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Hampton firefighters Mike McMahon and Jeff LeDuc are the fire department's first certified child passenger seat safety technicians. Both completed a 4-day, 32 hour training class with the Nashua Police Department, which qualified Hampton for attaining certification as an inspection center.
McMahon said he became interested in the class because he was having difficulty figuring out his own children's car seats. With a 2 1/2 year old and an 8 month old, McMahon said he has "years" of car seat use ahead of him.
The program will allow drivers to go to either the fire station at Hampton Beach or on Winnacunnet Road for a safety inspection of their child's car seat or booster seat. McMahon and LeDuc will be able to show proper installation as well as identifying whether the correct seat is being used for the child. McMahon said a single seat inspection usually takes about 15 minutes.
"Ideally, people learn how to do it themselves," McMahon said.
McMahon said that rear-facing seats should be used for infants, and that the seat should be facing forward no earlier than the age of 12 months, (or 20 lbs.), and the seats should always be installed in the back seat. Children can advance to a forward- facing booster seat with a harness generally when the child has reached 40 lbs., he added.
McMahon said the service, which is free of charge, will assure the safety of all young passengers, even if it means sending families off with a new car seat from the fire department. In winter weather, the inspections will move inside, McMahon said, adding that he has also gone right to people's houses to give them assistance.
Hampton Fire Chief Hank Lipe said his department is looking forward to becoming an inspection station to offer the service not only to Hampton residents but to summer vacationers as well. Lipe said the goal of the department is to have more Hampton firefighters complete the training, in hopes of eventually establishing a 24 hour availability for the service, with a technician always available "appointment-free."
Courtney said the two most common problems found with seat belt inspections are the car seat not being secured by the seat belt, or the child not being properly restrained. Statistics show that close to 90 percent of children's car seats are used incorrectly, according to Courtney.