PMC combats vehicle heat stroke with thermometer display, “ACT” campaign

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

POCATELLO – In the past two years, more than 100 people have died from vehicle heat stroke in the United States. On average, more than half of all deaths from vehicle heat stroke occur in children two years of age or younger.

A two-year-old’s body temperature rises in a hot vehicle, according to Dr. Drew McRoberts, Portneuf Medical Center’s trauma media director, about five times faster than an adult.

“If you leave a two-year-old in a 120-degree car, he can literally die in a matter of minutes,” said McRoberts.

As part of a mediation and education program coordinated by the trauma center, PMC purchased a thermometer display. The display shows the outside and inside temperature of a vehicle and gives parents a visual warning.

“It’s a great, quick display of how hot it gets in a car,” PMC trauma and EMS manager Greg Vickers told EastIdahoNews.com. “It is one thing to explain, but it is another 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 in PMC’s test vehicle showed up to 124 degrees, Vickers said.

In this type of heat, a child’s body temperature could rise from a healthy 98.6 degrees to a dangerous 104 degrees in minutes. Shortly afterwards to a fatal 107 degrees.

Since 1998, 891 deaths from vehicle heat stroke have been reported nationwide – with the annual average rising from 38 to 53 over the past two years. 54 percent of these deaths have resulted in the lives of children under the age of two, according to PMC.

According to McRoberts, there are common misconceptions that doctors hear.

“People think breaking a window prevents the car from heating up, and that’s absolutely not true,” he said. “At most it’s maybe three degrees that lower the temperature.”

Along with the display, PMC starts the “ACT” campaign and calls on the Idahoans; Avoid injury and death from heat stroke by creating reminders and taking action.

This campaign targets the more than 80 percent of child heat stroke deaths caused by a child being forgotten (52.9%) and knowingly abandoned in a vehicle (19.7%).

One memory idea from McRoberts is for parents to keep a stuffed animal in their child’s car seat. When the child is buckled up, slide the stuffed animal into the front seat as a reminder.

For parents who think they can walk in and out of a grocery store, for example, McRoberts warns: It only takes a warm day and 10 minutes for a young child to die.

PMC is offering its thermometer display to local businesses to educate the public about the dangers of vehicle heat stroke. Companies that want to bring the display to their parking spaces can contact PMC.


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