Fire department offers lessons on car seat safety

May 22, 2013

I am now the proud aunt of a little boy named Ayden. Of course he's tiny and cute and perfect. But he did arrive a few weeks early, so there were still a few preparations to make.

Since I planned to be at the top of the list of babysitters, I ran out and bought a car seat base. Ayden's parents already had purchased identical bases for their vehicles so we could share the same car seat.

But there was one obstacle: How do I install this base in my vehicle so that it stays put and baby stays safe?

Only one in 10 car seats are used correctly, according to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children ages 3 to 14, but correctly used child safety seats reduce the risk of death as much as 71 percent.

Fortunately, I had a little prior education on car seat installations. A few years ago, I wrote an article about the free installation service offered by the Wauwatosa Fire Department. At the time, a new mom brought in a car seat and had it installed. But her vehicle was different from mine.

I called up Lori Murphy, who in addition to coordinating fire prevention education activities for the department serves as one of five certified car seat installers. I set up an appointment to stop by Fire Station 1, 1601 Underwood Ave. She instructed me to allow about 45 minutes and to bring the car seat, as well as both the seat's and the vehicle's instruction manuals.

Installing the base

I pulled my car into the vehicle bay at the station and took the new car seat base out of the box. While I filled out the car seat registration card, which allows the manufacturer to alert me of any recalls, Murphy looked over the manuals. My Hyundai Santa Fe called for installation in the middle back seat, which provides a baby the most protection from side impact.

Murphy demonstrated how to install the base, making sure the bottom sat level and was securely strapped down using the seat belt. Because it was only a base, the process took only 15 minutes.

Being an infant, Ayden's seat had to be installed rear-facing. It has a harness and in a crash, cradles and moves with a baby to reduce the stress to the child's fragile neck and spinal cord. The recommendation is for a seat to face the rear at least until a child is age 2, but at a minimum the seat must stay rear-facing until the baby turns 1, Murphy said.

For kids ages 3 to 7, a front-facing car seat should be used until a child outgrows height/weight restrictions. Then they can graduate to a booster seat using a lap and shoulder seat belt in the back seat. Children should remain in the back seat until age 13.

Other advice

Before Ayden was born, I threw my sister a baby shower. One of the items on her list was a mirror that could be placed in front of the rear-facing seat so the driver can see the baby using the reflection of the rear-view mirror.

Murphy told me that certified installers do not recommend items like mirrors, toys and other hanging items that could come loose and injure the baby in the case of a quick stop or accident.

Another piece of advice I wanted to pass on: know the history of the car seat. It's not an item to buy at a rummage sale. If it's been in a crash, it should not be used again. There may be damage that can't be seen.

To make a car seat installation or safety check appointment, call Wauwatosa Fire Department at (414) 471-8457.

Stefanie Scott is a former Wauwatosa NOW reporter who enjoys staying involved in the Tosa community. Invite her to your event, club or meeting by sending an email to


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