Home Editor's Picks How an Improperly Installed Car Seat Almost Cost a First Responder Her Child’s Life
How an Improperly Installed Car Seat Almost Cost a First Responder Her Child’s Life

How an Improperly Installed Car Seat Almost Cost a First Responder Her Child’s Life

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By Michele Ice, contributor to In Public Safety

On April 1, 1999, my family’s life changed in a split second. I was driving to my sister’s lake house for the holiday weekend when a van ran a stop sign and hit my car at 50 MPH, causing a 29-inch intrusion in the driver’s door. My 10-month-old daughter, Brooke, was in the back.

My vehicle spun around multiple times before coming to a rest on the side of the road. The pack ‘n play and stroller that had been in the trunk of the car lay strewn in the wreckage on the road.

Witnesses stated it looked and sounded like a bomb going off when we were hit. I was instantly knocked unconscious with multiple life-threatening injuries, including nine fractures to my pelvis, a closed head injury, subdural bleed, avulsed elbow, lacerated spleen, and fractured left hip. An off-duty nurse witnessed the collision and was able to hold my airway open until emergency responders were able to get me out of the car and to the hospital. Brooke, properly restrained in her rear-facing child safety seat, didn’t have a scratch on her.

Let’s rewind now to two weeks before the crash. I was at a Safe Kids luncheon and a police officer who was also attending noticed that Brooke’s car seat in the back of my car was installed improperly. At first, I refused to let him check it, convinced that it couldn’t move more than an inch and that it doesn’t take rocket science to install a car seat. But the officer insisted and I finally gave in. After 45 minutes, he was able to fix my mistakes, which turned out to be many. The car seat was not properly locked with the switchable retractor, the harness was too loose and too high on Brooke’s shoulders, and the chest clip was too low on her chest. The officer also helped me move the car seat to the middle seat to give Brooke more room in the event of a side impact, which is exactly what happened just days later.

I still don’t remember anything from that day and only woke up after four days in a coma. The first thing I was able to write, since I was still on a respirator, was Brooke’s name. I knew she had been in the car with me and wanted to know where she was. I can’t imagine what would have happened if she was in the seat directly behind mine, with her car seat secured improperly.

The Child Passenger Safety Program Saves Lives

The police officer who took the time and effort to check Brooke’s car seat—and who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer—saved my daughter’s life that day. He was able to tell that the car seat was installed improperly and was able to help me fix it because he had attended an intense 40-hour child passenger safety training.

The National Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Certification Training Program certifies people as technicians and instructors. Since the CPS training program began in 1997, with the first courses offered in 1998, more than 162,000 people have successfully completed the course, including more than 41,000 currently certified CPS technicians. Many technicians are trained health and safety professionals, others are parents, and some are volunteers. They all have one thing in common: They care deeply about kids and want to make sure they’re safe.

After the long recovery from my injuries, I became a CPS technician in 2001 and a CPS instructor in 2005. I continue to share my story of how a certified CPS technician checked my daughter’s car seat two weeks before the crash, and how the 45 minutes he spent to correct my misuses literally changed everything.

Everyone, Including First Responders, Must Check Car Seats

After the crash, I immediately realized that if it happened to a trained first responder like me, it can happen to anyone. I encourage anyone transporting precious cargo to get a qualified individual to check your child’s car seat. We all think we know how to keep our children safe in the car, but most are like me and won’t ask for help. You might think it is installed right because you have read the directions and compared them to your car owner’s manual, but a second set of trained eyes makes a difference.

Even first responders are not immune to making mistakes that can jeopardize the safety of their families. I constantly check the car seats of my fellow firefighters and police officers, and only about two out of 10 car seats are properly installed! That means a whopping 80 percent of first responder car seats are improperly installed.

If your fire department doesn’t have a CPS training program, I highly encourage you to start one. CPS technicians and instructors put their knowledge to work by conducting child safety seat checks, where parents and caregivers receive hands-on assistance for proper use of child restraint systems and safety belts. This is a free service that saves one life at a time, like it did my daughter’s. These dedicated technicians offer education, support, and guidance in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

My Family’s Continuing Commitment to Injury Prevention

The wreck kept both my husband and I out of work for a while. My husband, Stan, had to help care for 10-month-old Brooke while I was in a coma and then in a wheelchair for over six months. I still feel the effects of the accident with occasional headaches and other problems, but have recovered to the point where I can pass my physical fitness test to do my job as a firefighter and EMT.

The crash has undeniably left a lasting impact on my family, but there have been positive outcomes, too. Most importantly, it has deepened our commitment to spreading awareness about injury prevention. My husband and I were honored to be approached by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety while I was in rehab learning to walk and eat again. They asked if we could come down to the Governor’s Office to be present at the signing of a new car seat bill. That bill is now in effect and allows points to be taken off a driver’s license if kids are not in a properly restrained car seat.

car seat
Brooke and Michele Ice (image provided by author)

My daughter, Brooke, has also decided to dedicate her life to saving others. Brooke’s goal now that she is a firefighter is to become a CPS technician so she can educate others about the importance of properly securing children in vehicles. She has spoken at several conferences including the 2017 National Safe Kids Worldwide conference in Baltimore, the 2017 National Safety Council’s Survivor Advocates Workshop in Chicago,the 2018 Lifesaver’s Conference in San Antonio, and the 2018 Texas Child Passenger Safety Technician conference in San Marcos, thanking all the countless volunteers who make a difference saving lives, including hers.

Even after almost 20 years since my horrible crash, I still teach a two-hour occupational protection monthly training to police mandate academies and work at car seat inspection stations throughout Georgia. Brooke and I often travel to national conferences to share our story and the importance of practicing car seat safety. To find out more, check out this video we recently created with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

car seatAbout the Author: Michele Ice has been a firefighter for over 26 years with Cobb County (GA) Fire and Emergency Services. She is currently assigned as Firefighter II at Truck Company 13 in West Cobb. Michele is also a CPR/First Aid Instructor, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Instructor, Child Safety Seat Technician Instructor, Hazardous Materials Technician, Firefighter Cancer Support Network State Director, Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) state team member, Fire Explorer Advisor and on the GEMA Incident Management Type III Team. She is a wife and mother of two (Denver, 18 and Brooke, 20). Both her husband and daughter are career firefighters with Cherokee County (GA) Fire and EMS and her son is a fire explorer. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. To receive more articles like this in your inbox, please sign up for In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.


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