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PMC combating vehicular heatstroke with thermometer display, ‘ACT’ campaign

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Portneuf Medical Center Trauma Medical Director Dr. Drew McRoberts stands next to a thermometer display that shows the temperatures both inside and outside of a vehicle on July 19, 2021. Even on a cool day, the temperature inside the vehicle registers above 100 degrees. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

POCATELLO — Over the last two years, more than 100 people have died in the U.S. from vehicular heatstroke. On average, more than half of all vehicular heatstroke deaths occur in children two years of age or younger.

The body temperature of a two-year-old in a hot vehicle will rise about five times as fast as that of an adult, according to Portneuf Medical Center Trauma Medial Director Dr. Drew McRoberts.

“If you leave a two-year-old in a car that’s 120 degrees, they can literally die within a few minutes,” McRoberts said.

As part of an outreach and education program coordinated by the trauma center, PMC has acquired a thermometer display. The display shows the temperatures on the exterior and interior of a vehicle, offering visual warnings to parents.

“It’s a great, quick representation of how hot it gets in a car,” PMC Trauma and EMS Manager Greg Vickers told EastIdahoNews.com. “It’s one thing to explain it, but it’s something else to see the difference.”

The temperature inside a vehicle can be up to 30 degrees hotter than outside. Last week, when temperatures in Pocatello were in the mid- to high-90s, a thermometer inside PMC’s test vehicle read up to 124 degrees, Vickers said.

In that sort of heat, a child’s body temperature could rise from a healthy 98.6 degrees to a dangerous 104 degrees in minutes. Then to a fatal 107 degrees shortly thereafter.

Since 1998, 891 deaths have been reported nationally due to vehicular heatstroke — with annual averages jumping from 38 to 53 over the last two years. Fifty-four percent of those deaths have taken the lives of children two and younger, according to information provided by PMC.

There are common misconceptions doctors hear, according to McRoberts.

“People think that cracking a window will prevent the car from heating up, and that’s absolutely not true,” he said. “At the most, it’s, like, maybe three degrees is all that it will decrease the temperature.”

Along with the display, PMC is launching the “ACT” campaign, urging Idahoans to; avoid heatstroke-related injury and death, by creating reminders, and taking action.

This campaign is aimed at the more than 80 percent of child vehicular heatstroke deaths that are the product of a child being forgotten in a vehicle (52.9%) and being knowingly left (19.7%).

One reminder idea offered by McRoberts is, for parents to keep a stuffed animal in their child’s car seat. Then, when the child is strapped in, move the stuffed animal to the front seat, to serve as a reminder.

For parents who believe they can run in and out of, for example, a grocery store, McRoberts cautions: it only takes a warm day and 10 minutes to result in the death of a young child.

PMC is offering its thermometer display to local businesses, as it attempts to get educate the public on the dangers of vehicular heatstroke. Businesses interested in bringing the display to their parking lots can contact PMC.

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