Just a month into summer, the Northwest is already seeing record-breaking temperatures and the effects of extreme heat including heat-related deaths. Heatstroke, also known as hyperthermia, is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children. It occurs when the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels.

So far, eight children across the country have died due to heatstroke, and unfortunately, there may be more in the future. Children are at great risk for heatstroke because a child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s. When the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees, the internal organs start to shut down. When it reaches 107 degrees, the child can die.

“North Idaho isn’t exempt from heat-related injury or death,” Donna Kalanick, Kootenai Health’s injury prevention coordinator, said. “It’s easy for parents or grandparents to get out of their weekly routine during the summer and forget their child in the back seat.”

Safe Kids Kootenai County works to raise awareness about preventable tragedies like this. When temperatures rise, the inside of a car can become much hotter than the temperature outside. In just 10 minutes, a car can heat up 19 degrees. On an 80-degree day, the inside of a closed car can quickly exceed 100 degrees. Cracking a window does not help keep the inside of a car cool.

Unfortunately, no one is immune to this kind of tragedy. Parents and caregivers can cut down the number of deaths and near misses by remembering to ACT.

  •  A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own.
  •  C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.
  •  T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.

Since 1998, more than 635 children across the United States have died from heatstroke while unattended in cars. Additional prevention information can be found at safekids.org/heatstroke, and statistics on child heatstroke deaths can be found at ggweather.com/heat.