Heatwave: working together to prevent tragic events

The warm days have just started, and families get ready to spend some quality time outdoors. To prevent these events from taking a wrong turn, the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) Trauma Centre issues this important alert.

Every summer, the MCH Emergency Department sees more than 4,000 children with injuries. Many of these injuries could be prevented if precautions were taken.

These issues are particularly important and deserve to be addressed:

  1. Water safety: the MCH Emergency Department sees an average of one drowning per week during the summer months.

Drowning prevention requires a multifaceted approach, including:

  • Constant adult supervision: close, undistracted and attentive surveillance of children around any body of water, all eyes on the water at all times. This means no phones, screens, books, and no chatting with neighbours or drinking alcohol. The supervising adult should be within arm’s reach of anyone with weak swimming skills;
  • Swimming lessons are encouraged;
  • CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training is recommended;
  • Never swim alone, regardless of age;
  • Know the swimming skill level of those in your pool.

MCH experts emphasize the following life-saving measures to prevent drowning:

  • Ensure there is no direct access to the pool from the house or patio;
  • Install adequate fencing around the pool (4-sided, self-locking fence of at least 1.2 meter high);
  • Close and lock the gate to the pool when not in use;
  • When there is direct access to a lake, make sure doors remain locked at all times to prevent a child from wandering into the water;
  • Ensure that children are properly supervised when going on a field trip to a pool, lake or water park;
  • Teach children to always swim with a buddy;
  • Make sure to swim in an area that matches swimming ability.
  1. Windows and balconies: about 15 children come to the MCH Emergency Department each summer after falling from a window or balcony.

Screens are useful for keeping insects out, but are not strong enough to keep children in. They are flimsy and are weak barriers giving a false sense of security. Children can easily push through and fall out. Toddlers are curious, impulsive, enjoy exploring their environment and are not aware of the consequences of their actions. Follow these guidelines to keep them safe:

  • Do not place furniture such as a bed, chair or dresser in front of a window since it is an invitation to climb up.
  • Use window guards which create a protective barrier or window stops that limit window opening. Windows should not be able to open more than 10 cm (4 inches). These devices are available at hardware stores.
  • Adult supervision is essential at all times.
  • Never leave a child alone on a balcony.
  1. Children left in cars: on average, 37 children die each year in the United States from heat stroke after being left alone in a car.

Cars heat up quickly. A study funded by General Motors of Canada showed that a on a 35ºC day, the air temperature in a previously air-conditioned small car exceeded 50ºC within 20 minutes and the temperature soared to 65.5 ºC within 40 minutes.

Leaving a window open ajar does little to impact the temperature. Infants and children under four years of age are among those at greatest risk for heat-related illness. When left in a hot vehicle, a young child's body temperature may increase from three to five times as fast as an adult (Canadian safety council). High body temperatures can cause permanent injury or even death.

By incorporating the following measures in your daily routine, you can help prevent this type of tragedy from happening:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.
  • Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle - front and back - before locking the door and walking away.
  • Make sure your childcare provider knows to call you if your child has not been dropped off at the usual time.
  • Always place an item (purse, bag, etc.) in the backseat so that you have to open the door every time you leave the vehicle.
  • Keep a large stuffed animal in your child’s car seat when it is not occupied. When your child is in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. This is a visual reminder: any time the stuffed animal is in the front seat, you know your child is in the back seat.
  • When you arrive at your destination, avoid any distractions including talking on the phone or texting while you exit your car.

If you see a child alone in a vehicle, call the police. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Many families eager to enjoy the summer months. The MCH Trauma Centre urges all citizens, however, to follow the prevention recommendations above and not let a beautiful day end in a preventable, life-altering tragic event.