For some strange reason, myths abound when it comes to car seats. I suspect most such myths are rooted in a combination of parental confusion surrounding this ever-evolving technology (how long should kids stay rear-facing, again?), and wishful thinking (a car seat costs what?). But there's a strangely persistent urban legend that a firefighter will check your car seat for you — right after they get your cat out of that tree. But can you get your car seat checked at a fire station? Everyone wants a reason to talk to one of these ultra-brave men and women, but sadly, they can't always help with your car seat.
Recently, the rumor that hospitals give out free car seats to parents that don't bring one was put to rest; it was an urban legend born of wishful thinking because everyone wants a freebie. But my guess is that the old saw about the fire station has more to do with confusion and fear. Car seat manuals are dense reads, occasionally with diagrams that rival IKEA's for incomprehensibility. And since a shocking study showed that 95 percent of parents were using or installing their car seat incorrectly, as Parents reported, you absolutely do need someone to check your installation. But that person is a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST), not a firefighter.
As Lorrie Walker of Safe Kids Worldwide tells Romper in an interview, parents "end up getting in trouble when they ask the firefighter, who hasn’t been trained and who isn’t certified, to put their car seat in." Firefighters, like nurses, are naturally helpful people, she says, so they might even try to help you out. However, "there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be done right." That means that taking your car seat to a fire station could actually endanger your baby.
Also, it annoys the firefighters. As Christine Williams, a firefighter at San Francisco Fire Department Station 21, told Baby Center, parents are constantly knocking on her firehouse door to ask for help with their car seats, and it's stressful. Firefighters don't receive comprehensive car seat technician training because they're too busy learning to fight fires. When it comes time to get your car seat checked, hop onto the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website to search for a CPST near you, or search by state at Safe Kids Worldwide.
According to Walker, you should start checking car seat chores off your to-do list in the fifth month of pregnancy, when you're still svelte enough to duck in and out of the backseat. So pick out a car seat, figure out where it goes in your car, and practice strapping a teddy bear into the chest clip. Then, get your installation checked. Just remember that the one and only person qualified to help you is — you guessed it! — a CPST.
What about hospitals? Can't someone there check your car seat? While the hospital where I gave birth happened to host a car seat technician, you can't count on every hospital to have one on the payroll. "A lot of hospitals don’t even have trained technicians on staff, just people with big hearts who want to help," explains Walker. "A lot of times, they’re not giving the right information. They think it’s right, but it’s not. Police officers, nurses, paramedics, they want the best thing for the baby, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been trained to advise you."
For more information, you can also check out Safe Kids's Ultimate Car Seat Guide, an interactive guide to buying and installing a car seat, and achieving the right fit. On the site, you can also find information about when to change your child's car seat, and of course, where to find a child passenger safety technician. Pro tip, though: you usually won't find them at the fire station.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.