Police volunteer buckles up for safety

Sequim has a car seat problem.

According to Sequim Police volunteer Fernellyn Brown, 95 percent of car seats in Clallam County are installed incorrectly.

"(Parents) do the best they can, but they realize they're wrong when I show it to them," Brown said.

As a volunteer for the last 21/2 years, Brown revitalized the car seat installation program for Sequim after it ended a few years ago.

"I wanted to start it again because there wasn't anyone in this area to do it," Brown said.

"Chief Spinks' eyes lit up when I asked him about doing the program."

Brown, a registered nurse for 44 years, installed car seats and educated parents about child safety for four years with Clallam County Health Department before transitioning to volunteer status with Sequim Police.

Brown was nominated by Sequim Police Officer Maris Turner for Gov. Christine Gregoire's 2009 Outstanding Volunteer Service Award.

Sequim resident Steve Rankin of Streamkeepers also was honored on April 20 at the Governor's Mansion.

While volunteering, Brown averages 25 hours a month working with parents installing their car seats. In 2008, Brown said she nearly doubled her 2007 workload from 80 car seat installations to 151.

She also gave away 47 car seats to needy families.

Brown loans car seats to grandparents with visiting grandchildren. She asks for a cash donation to go toward future car seat donations.

"If you do it right, you'll only need two car seats for a child's life: a convertible and belt-positioning booster," Brown said.

A convertible car seat is an interchangeable rear- and forward-facing seat and a belt-positioning booster positions the belt correctly. It later becomes a regular booster.

Sequim Police and Brown partner with the Forks Health Department, Port Angeles Fire Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office to educate parents on the peninsula about car seat safety. They are called the Peninsula Child Passenger Safety Team.

Brown takes the child safety trailer to special events around Sequim and Clallam County to partner with other cities.

The Olympic Peninsula Kiwanis club raised funds for the trailer and program founder Dave Sue installed the infrastructure inside it.

Sue said donations run the whole program - $2,000-$5,000 a year.

He feels the program's importance will keep it running, but volunteers like Brown are essential.

"She is one hard worker. She keeps things going in the city's program," Sue said.

"The best part of this is knowing that a child leaves here safer than before," Brown said.

"A car seat is a heck of a lot better than a wheelchair."

Matthew Nash can be reached at mnash@sequim

Car seat need-to-knows from Fernellyn Brown:

_ Must have harness clip at armpit level. "Most of the time they are too high or too low," Brown said.

_ Harness straps must be snug.

_ Seat should be tight enough so child's car seat won't slide. "There should be less than 1 inch of movement when pulling on the full seat and the seat belt."

_ Read the manual. "Nine out of 10 people don't read their car seat or car manuals," Brown said. "Car seat manufacturers and car manufacturers don't always talk."

_ Newer cars also pose a threat to children in car seats because air bags could impact from the side. Brown said newer car seats are installing wings near the baby's head to protect from trauma.

_ Put loose objects in the glove compartment or trunk because they could hit the child.

Who to call

To make an appointment with Brown to install a car seat or to receive a "loaner," call Brown or Officer Maris Turner at 683-7227. To become involved in the car seat program contact Dave Sue at 452-9848.

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