WEST VALLEY CITY — West Valley police officer Dana Pugmire has responded to calls with children locked in hot cars, but last week he was the one feeling the heat.
It was 100 degrees outside last week when West Valley police and paramedics demonstrated how quickly a car can become an oven.
"We'll see how long it takes to get hot," Pugmire said as he got into an SUV parked in the blazing sun.
"It builds quick, quicker than I thought it would," he said. "It's been about three minutes. The dash has gone from 105 (degrees) to 113."
After a few minutes, Pugmire said he started to feel dramatic physical changes.
"It's been about five minutes," he said from inside the SUV. "I'm starting to sweat all over the place."
After 10 minutes, beads of sweat were visible on his face. The paramedics said that was a good sign that he wasn't experiencing heat stroke — yet.
According to research by national safety organization KidsandCars.org, an average of 38 children die each year in heat-related deaths in cars. Eight have died so far this year.
Twenty years ago, when people had fewer distractions like cellphones, the problem was far less severe, with an average of a half-dozen fatalities each year. Ten children died in hot cars in Utah between 1990 and 2010, according to KidsandCars.org.
"After experiencing just a little bit of this, I can't even imagine being stuck in here longer than you would have to," Pugmire said.
After 13 minutes, the temperature inside exceeded 130 degrees.
"I'm sweating just everywhere," he said. "The steering wheel is hot. The dash is hot."
There's was no escape from the stifling heat.
“When he got in, he was calm, cool and collected, but near the end, he got a little more agitated," said paramedic Mary Lindsay-Vonk, who was on hand to monitor Pugmire's health during the demonstration.
At 15 minutes, Pugmire got out of the SUV to cool down.
"That's a different kind of hot," he said. "Like, it almost takes your breath away hot. When you breathe, you can feel how hot it is."
Even responsible parents can make that mistake, Lindsay-Vonk said.
"In this day and age, we're busy. 'I've just got to run into Wal-Mart for 15 minutes.' In that 15 minutes, you saw what happened to this adult," she said. "Imagine a kid."
According to KidsandCars.org, a child’s body overheats three to five times faster than an adult's. Children won't necessarily show those signs as quickly, she said, because their bodies don't thermoregulate, as well as an adult.
The paramedics offer these tips:
If you see a child or a pet locked in a hot car, call 911.
The 911 dispatcher can help you decide whether you need to break the window before help arrives.
Once the child is out, get them in the shade, loosen their clothes and cool them down with a cold towel on the neck and hands. That cools the core.
Give the child a cold drink, but make sure they drink slowly so their body can handle it.
Change in normal routine, lack of sleep, stress, fatigue, distractions are all symptoms that all new parents experience and can be contributing factors to someone leaving a child in a vehicle. Children, especially babies, often fall asleep in their rear-facing child safety seat. The rear-facing seat looks the same whether there’s a baby in it or not.
Most parents or caregivers think it could never happen to them, but it can happen to anyone.
Here are some tips from KidsandCars.org:
Never leave children alone in or around cars, not even for a minute.
Look before you Lock. Get in the habit of always opening the back door to check the back seat before leaving your vehicle, making sure no child has been left behind.
Create a reminder to check the back seat. Put something you’ll need like your cellphone, handbag, employee ID or brief case in the back seat so you have to open the back door to retrieve that item every time you park.
Or keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat. When the child is placed in the car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat, creating a visual reminder that the child is in the back seat.
Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in driveways or garages.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc