Law enforcement check child seats

ALPENA – Law enforcers from four agencies checked car seats at the Alpena County Fairgrounds Saturday, and had a chance to hone their seat installation skills.

Alpena and Presque Isle county sheriff’s deputies and Michigan State Police taught a handful of parents how to properly install a car seat. To ensure their skills were up-to-date, law officers also installed several different kinds of seats while Instructor Ron Puzon watched and inspected their work.

While only a few mothers and moms-to-be took advantage of the free service that day, those who did appreciated the demonstration. Tammy Helsom came with daughter Ashley Jade, her first child, and aunt Michele Ellsworth. The demonstration by Renee Szymanski with the Presque Isle Sheriff’s Department and Mike Lash with Alpena County Sheriff’s Department gave her confidence and peace of mind.

“I never really knew how to set up a latch system,” she said, adding she’d recommend the seat check to other parents.

Alpena County 4-H volunteers were also there with informational stations on backyard fire safety and healthy eating, complete with tasty snacks. Program Coordinator Helen-Ann Prince said it was the first year 4-H partnered with the car seat check. While she and the volunteers were hoping for a better turnout than what they had, they did give out a few backpacks filled with coloring books and other goodies.

Puzon said he became a National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration instructor after working as a crash reconstructor in Ann Arbor. He analyzed a number of accidents involving infant fatalities, and in most cases the child had been improperly secured, the car seat improperly installed or both. In the U.S. an average of eight out of 10 parents aren’t installing their car seats correctly, and it’s not uncommon for every parent who comes to a car seat check to make some mistake.

While car seat manufacturers are working to make installation easier, instruction manuals and illustrated guides can still be misunderstood, Puzon said. So he teaches law enforcers like Lash, Szymanski and the rest of the team Saturday what they need to become car seat technicians. This certification allows local departments to show the right way to install a car seat to the residents they serve.

Car seat techs must recertify every other year, and to do so they have to install six types of seats in front of an instructor like Puzon and take six credits of continuing education, Puzon said. Szymanski explained how this can be difficult to squeeze in while handling all the other duties a law officer must handle. But it’s certainly worth the trouble.

“With this knowledge you can better inform parents to keep their kids safe,” she said. “As a mom of three, it’s extremely important to know that if we were to be involved in a crash, my kids would be protected.”

Michigan State Police Community Service Trooper Ashley Simpson said she’s planning to have another car seat check event next September. In the mean time, parents can make an appointment with Alpena City Police, Alpena County Sheriff’s Department, the MSP Alpena Post and Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department.

Alpena City Police: 354-1800

Alpena County Sheriff’s Department: 354-9830

MSP Alpena Post: 354-4101

Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department: 734-5141

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.