Cop helps little kids be safe in cars

by: David F. Ashton, Sellwood’s Heather Hunt learns how to properly use Parker’s child safety seat from Portland Police Officer--also a father--Brett Barnum.

Strapping your kid into a 'child safety seat' is the law. But what you don't know about correctly using them could actually kill your child. As a cop assigned to the Portland Police Bureau's Traffic Division, Bret R. Barnum tells us that he sees the result of vehicle crashes nearly every day.

'We're the officers assigned to investigate wrecks,' Barnum tells us, 'so we see, first hand, the difference well-used car safety seats make.' Barnum illustrates his point by telling stories of two very similar crashes.

'A car was hit in a grinding T-bone [side impact] collision by an SUV going at least 30 MPH. It struck right where the child was sitting. When I arrived on scene, I found the child properly secured in with a seatbelt in a 'booster' seat. The result: The child walked away, without a scratch, completely safe and unharmed - not even a bruise.'

Barnum looks down, speaks in a softer voice, and says the outcome was tragically different in a very similar crash, also involving a young child in a booster seat. 'In that accident, the child in the booster seat was only secured by the lap belt, not the shoulder strap. She had severe internal abdominal injuries; we thought she wouldn't live. Fortunately OHSU's Dornbecher hospital was able to save her.'

We were speaking with Officer Barnum at a Child Safety Seat Clinic in Oak Grove on February 10th. 'Over half the folks we've seen here at the clinic have been from Inner Southeast Portland,' he says.

The purpose of the event, held in partnership with Alliance for Community Traffic Safety, is to help parents learn how to correctly use their safety seats. We found Officer Barnum is helping Heather Hunt, a Sellwood resident and her son. 'Parker's grown into a new car seat. We wanted to get it installed correctly.'

The officer makes sure the checklist is complete, as he completes his visit with Hunt: 'The seat is new; the owner's manual is with it; it conforms to safety standards; it passed the 'pinch' test; and the safety belt can easily be secured to the seat,' he confirms.

'Things I learned today,' Hunt tells us, 'are the importance making sure your child's safety seat is secure, so it can't slide from side to side. And, I now understand the importance of having the baby's restraints positioned correctly around his shoulder blades.'

Just before she drove off, Hunt thanked Barnum, saying, 'This was very, very valuable for me - and for Parker.'

We learned from Officer Barnum that Child Safety Seat Clinic technicians have been finding that 83% of all seats are not installed properly.

'Had these people not come in to the clinic today,' Barnum says, 'they'd still be out on the road, unintentionally risking the lives of their kids. These parents have the best intentions for protecting their children. But, with car seat technology rapidly changing, properly using them can be confusing.'

The most common problem, Barnum explains, is that the harness system, in the car safety seat, tends to be too-loosely secured. 'There shouldn't be slack in the straps.' When the straps are too loose, he shows us, the child can be ejected out of the car safety seat into the car itself, at high velocity. 'The crash force dynamics take a real toll on the children who are ejected.'

'It is up to the parents to protect their little kids who can't protect themselves,' Barnum says. 'I have two boys myself. When I go to a crash scene and see a child walk away from a severe accident because they are protected - it can bring a tear to my eye. You look at them and think, 'Thank goodness someone cared enough to do it right'.'

Discover vital information about using child safety seats, and look up future clinic locations and dates, at the Internet website: Or, call toll-free: 1-800/772-1315.