(ELON, N.C.) — Crystal Holland, a mom of three, faced a dilemma common to parents as she was ready to take her middle child, a 5-year-old daughter, to school Wednesday morning.
Holland, of Elon, North Carolina, had taken the car seat for her youngest child, a 2-year-old daughter, out of the car the night before and then could not get it back in as securely as she wanted on her own.
Holland put her two daughters in their car seats still and drove the short distance to school.
Also at Holland’s daughter’s school that day was Chuck Loy, a 25-year veteran of the Burlington, North Carolina, fire department, who was dropping off his granddaughter.
When Holland spotted Loy wearing a fire department sweatshirt, she asked him if the Burlington Fire Department, located next to the school, was doing a car seat check that day.
Instead of sending her to the fire department to check, Loy told Holland he would meet her at her car to check both of her daughters’ car seats himself.
“She kept saying, ‘No, I can go next door to the fire department,’ but I said, ‘Look ma’am the safety of the kids comes first. We need to do this right now,'” Loy told Good Morning America.
Loy, a grandfather of two who is certified to install car seats, then spent the next 20 minutes in below-freezing temperatures working to secure both of Holland’s daughters’ car seats.
“There were points where I was like, ‘OK, that looks good,’ and he was like, ‘No, it needs more,'” Holland told GMA. “He was not going to let me leave until it was absolutely perfect.”
Holland posted on Facebook about her chance encounter with Loy, thanking him for helping her on his day off.
She said she wanted to share not only the importance of car seat safety but also to recognize the selflessness of firefighters like Loy.
“Chuck didn’t know me but he took the time to make sure my daughters were protected,” Holland said. “These men and women really do sacrifice so much and they’re always on duty. They’re angels walking on earth really.”
Loy said the act of kindness was “no big deal” for him and something he is used to doing.
“I try to be the good neighbor in my neighborhood and try to help moms with smoke detectors and car seats,” he said. “[Firefighters] are on duty 24/7.”
Car seat safety is of personal importance to Holland because she was T-boned in a car crash two years ago while her two daughters were in the car. Both of them were secured safely in their car seats and not injured in the accident, according to Holland.
“I remember being terrified to turn around and see what happened to them and when I did they were both there just fine,” she said of her daughters. “That’s why I’m such a firm believer in car seat safety because my children walked around with a scratch because of it.”
Here are the car seat checkup tips to ensure your child is properly protected, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Ensure your child’s car seat is facing the right direction
In 2018, the AAP issued new car seat safety guidelines encouraging parents to keep their children’s car seats in the rear-facing position until they have reached the manufacturer’s height or weight limits in order to protect their developing heads, necks and spines in the event of a crash. Previous guidance for rear-facing car seats was age 2.
When a child has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for their car seat, the child should then use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer.
When a child’s whose weight or height is greater than the forward-facing limit for their car seat, parents should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, “typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 through 12 years of age,” according to the AAP.
Children should remain in rear seats until the age of 13, the AAP added.
Use LATCH or a seat belt to secure a car seat inside a vehicle
LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) is an attachment system that can be used instead of the seat belt to install a car seat. LATCH can be found in nearly all car seats and passenger vehicles made on or after Sept. 1, 2002.
Parents may use LATCH or a seat belt, but Walker said to choose “one or the other” and remember to take your time.
“They’re both equally safe, but sometimes you find when you do the installation [one over the other] has a tighter, better fit,” she added. “That’s the one to go with if it works for your car, car seat and child.”
Properly install the seat
To use LATCH, the AAP advises fastening the lower anchor connectors to lower anchors located in between where the back seat cushions meet. All lower anchors are rated for a maximum weight of 65 pounds, or the total weight of the car seat and child. As always, check the car seat manufacturer’s recommendations or car seat label for the maximum weight a child can be to use lower anchors.
Following your car seat’s instructions, pull LATCH strap tightly, applying a significant amount of weight into the seat. The same should be done if using a seat belt.
The top tether from the car seat improves safety provided by the seat, the AAP says. Use the tether for all forward-facing seats and check your vehicle owner’s manual for the location of tether anchors.
Always follow both the car seat and vehicle manufacturer instructions, including weight limits, for lower anchors and tethers. Weight limits are different for different car seats and different vehicles.
After the car seat is installed, it should not move more than an inch side to side, or front to back. If the car seat shifts, it’s not tight enough.
If you install the car seat using the vehicle’s seat belt, make sure the seat belt locks to keep a tight fit. Check your vehicle owner’s manual and car seat instructions to ensure you are using the seat belt correctly.
On their website, Safe Kids Worldwide offers an ultimate car seat safety guide complete with car seat buying tips, safe installation tips and more. All the information is based on your child’s age and weight.
Strap in your precious cargo snugly
While buckling your child into their car seat, test that the harness is snug enough where you cannot pinch any slack between your fingers and the harness straps over your child’s shoulders.
The harness chest clip should be placed at the center of the chest and even with your child’s armpits.
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