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Health haven

DeAnn Sopsic/Special to the Daily
Tobias Herrera, 11, and Christian Sopsic, 7, chat over the radio in an Eagle River fire engine.
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Hoping to make a dramatic statement about the large number of children in our community whom safety officials believe are riding around in unsafe car seats – or in good seats, but in an unsafe manor – SallyAnn Bluhm, director of Think First and chairperson of the EMS Prevention Team, decided to dispose of the hazardous collection in a manor befitting the physical damage the seats could have caused innocent passengers.

Bluhm was one of five trained technicians who worked throughout the day inspecting car seats, trading the unacceptable ones for brand new ones, and teaching parents and care-givers the proper method for securing a safety seat given the occupying child’s needs.

“There are many times when we only have to instruct a parent on how to secure the good seat that they are already using,” Bluhm said. “But if a car seat was purchased used, like at a garage sale or at a second-hand shop, we simply replaced the seat.”

It doesn’t make sense to take such a chance with your child’s life,” she said.

Hidden danger

Safety seats that have been in previous accidents, even minor ones, may have interior cracks or weaknesses that are not apparent, but that could cause the seat to give way in a crash, causing substantial injury to the child riding in it, Bluhm said.

The EMS Prevention Team spent $2,800 earlier this summer on the different sizes and stages of car seats, and brought 32 to the Health Fair, which is their last big summer event. They do not charge for the car seats that they give out, but do ask for donations in any amount that a recipient can afford in order to purchase more seats and continue assisting other community members.

During Saturday’s event, they gave out 28 of those seats – $960 worth – and collected as many of poor quality or unknown history. They also checked the safety of 63 children’s riding positions and received $195 in donations to continue their efforts.

“My husband is the safety-minded one of us. When we’re teasing him we call him, “Safety Dad,'” said Joelle Hill, whose mini-van was inspected.

In their brand new Nissan Quest, Hill and daughters Cal and Tianna received several hints on the safety of their seating situations.

“We just bought this car exclusively for safety,” Hill said. “We didn’t even test drive it. My husband did a lot of research and decided that this was the safest van on the market. So we ordered it.”

According to Bluhm, 98 percent of car seats in Colorado are installed incorrectly. This compares to 96 percent nationally.

“I have even seen children as young as 11-months-old sitting in an adult’s seat belt,” she said, adding though that may have been better than the child sitting on an adult’s lap un-buckled, it’s still very dangerous.

Levels of protection

Besides being the chairperson for the EMS Prevention Team, Bluhm also heads the “Think First” program and gave out bike helmets and information on back and spinal cord injury prevention.

For the third year in a row this program purchased 100 bike helmets and ran out before midday. “We hope to be able to bring more next year,” she admitted, “I would like to be able to give one to every child that wants one.”

Two of the children that received helmets last year were Tobias Herrera, 11, who attends Minturn Middle School, and Christian Sopsic, 7, of Meadow Mountain Elementary. At the Health Fair, they enjoyed a rare chance to play “firefighter” with real equipment!

“I like it when we get to sit in the helicopter,” Sopsic said. “But putting out the fire every year is the best.”

“I liked the fire trucks more,” Herrera said. “We got to use the head phones and talk to each other.”

Each child at the fair that was interested was able to use a fire extinguisher with the assistance of a uniformed fire fighter to put out a contained fuel fire.

Herrera and Sopsic have been a part of nearly every one of the five annual Back-to-School Health Fair gatherings here in Eagle County. And every year they say that they look forward to learning something that they didn’t know previously.

Each child who attends the fair also receives an up-to-date “Child Identification” packet, which includes the child’s personal information and a polaroid photo taken at the fair. This packet can then be used to help police or other emergency personnel who may need such identifying information immediately.

In addition to giving young children the opportunity to see and touch emergency equipment like helicopters and ambulances, the annual health fair provides community members with a chance to have their children screened for medical, dental and other developmental problems, and provides information and referrals for parents to follow up on.


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