As temperatures begin to creep upward, so does the number of heat-related deaths.
Every week in Arizona it seems like there is a story about children or a dog that was left in the car, while the guardian was running a “quick errand” that ends up in tragedy. However, as of August, there were some new laws and nuances put into place for those walking by to render aid.
Spearheaded by the Arizona Humane Society, the “Good Samaritan” law passed the Arizona Legislature and allows passerby good Samaritans to rescue a child or pet from a hot car. However, it isn’t as simple as just busting a window and pulling the child or pet to safety. There is a process in order to protect good Samaritans from any civil liability.
If you see a child or pet in a hot car and believe they are in imminent danger of physical injury or death: Call 911; determine if the vehicle is locked; if unlocked, open a door to enter the vehicle; if locked, you may break the window. Do not use more force than is necessary; and remain with the child or pet until the authorities arrive.
“Every year, local police and our Emergency Animal Medical Technicians respond to dozens of calls of children and pets left in hot cars,” said Dr. Steven Hansen, CEO of the Arizona Humane Society.
“This law allows us to be able to direct the caller to take action, immediately, without exposing the good Samaritan to liability for breaking a window and potentially saving a life.”
Jan Null, a certified consulting meteorologist with the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University, has found that in the first 10 minutes of a car being parked, the average temperature rise is 19 degrees. He told CNN that rise is based on if the driver had the air conditioner running, parked the car and closed the door. This effect is almost identical if you start at 70 degrees or 90 degrees, Null said. If you start at 70, in 10 minutes, it will be 89 degrees. If you start at 90, in 10 minutes, it will be 109 degrees.
Medical professionals generally use 104-degree body temperature to measure heatstroke, and death can occur when body temperatures reach the 107-degree range. Even on an 80-degree day it’s 109 in 20 minutes inside a car. Even when outside temperatures are as low as 57 degrees, the temperature within a car can climb to 110, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
So what effect do these temperatures have on children or pets?
According to the Mayo Clinic, children don’t have fully developed central nervous systems, which makes it hard for their bodies to be able to cope with temperature changes. A child’s core body temperature can rise five times more quickly than that of an adult. When body temperature rises, heatstroke may occur. Also referred to as hyperthermia and heat illness, it can cause alterations in consciousness and lead to permanent brain, heart and kidney damage. In a worst-case scenario, heatstroke places a person — child or adult — at risk of death.
Heat is usually dispensed by sweating, but once dehydration hits, we lose the ability to sweat. Without sweating, we can’t get rid of heat, and then our body temperatures rapidly rise. It is this inability to sweat, plus the increased humidity in a closed space like a car, that increase the likelihood of heat-related illness.
It doesn’t just ride on the shoulders of good Samaritans to save pets and children; guardians should be the first defense.
When in doubt, leave pets at home. If you can’t take them into the store with you because the pavement is too hot for their feet or the store policies don’t allow pets, it isn’t worth taking them in the car at all.
Always take children in with you, because even within 10 minutes the heat could get unbearable for them. No “quick errand” or “it’ll just take a minute” is worth the life of your child, grandchild, or younger sibling.