CHIMACUM — Tanya Cray worked to get the slack out of a seat belt that was routed through the back of a child passenger seat.
The administrative assistant at Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue joined firefighter Elliot Stone in the back of a pickup on Thursday at the Chimacum Fire Station, where they were inspecting car seats for compliance with state laws as a culmination of a 40-hour class.
New state laws that went into effect Jan. 1 require children up to age 2 to be in rear-facing car seats, and children ages 2 to 4 to be in car seats with harnesses regardless of which direction it faces.
The laws also require children 4 and older to be in booster seats until they are 4-foot-9 or taller, and that children up to 13 must ride in the back seat whenever it’s practical.
Seven people from Jefferson and Clallam counties finished the class this week to become certified child passenger safety technicians, including Crystal Clark, who said she didn’t have any children of her own but has nine nieces and nephews.
“It’s really fun,” Clark said. “When you think you know it all, you learn you don’t know it all.”
Clark flipped through a vehicle owner’s manual and said car seats installed with seat belts or latch systems are equally safe.
“It just comes down to how often you have to move them,” she said of the car seats.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says car seats that are installed properly can reduce the risk of fatal injuries in a collision by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers.
That’s why East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EJFR) offers inspections for free, public information officer Emily Stewart said.
“It’s encouraging to see how interested parents and caregivers are when we get called for a car seat inspection,” said Katherine Caldwell, a child passenger safety technician with EJFR.
“Each car seat and vehicle combination is a little bit different, which is tricky — technicians are trained to identify proper installation per your car and car seat specifications.”
The Sequim Police Department and EJFR were awarded grant funding from the Washington Child Passenger Safety Program to host the four-day class.
Jefferson County, which only had one certified technician for a number of years, now has six total, Stewart said. Clallam County has a few more than that, she added.
As Cray installed a car seat in the back of Trevor Bergen’s truck, she said children who weigh more than 65 pounds can graduate to a booster or a high-backed seat.
Bergen, a lieutenant with EJFR, took his turn installing the seat and then secured his 2-year-old son, Emmett, inside.
Stewart said the fire department often performs the safety checks once or twice per month when they are requested, and they typically make arrangements to help new parents when they leave the hospital with a newborn.
An appointment can be made by calling EJFR at 360-385-2626 or the Sequim Police Department at 360-683-7227.
Although the new state laws cover children up to 16, the focus is on those 12 and younger, according to a news release from the fire department.
“By the time most people are young teens, they have physiologically developed to a point where they have less risk of injury in a crash compared to their younger counterparts,” the release stated.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].