Sunday, February 2, 2014

Safety is top priority for one Windham resident - By Elizabeth Richards

Suzanne Grace has a passion for protection, particularly when it comes to child passenger safety. In fact, Grace’s interest in preventing unintentional injuries and deaths prompted her to form a nonprofit organization, Tall Pine Safety Resource Center, in 2010.  
The formation of Tall Pine Safety Resource Center allowed Grace to bring the Safe Kids program, an international program dedicated to preventing unintentional childhood injuries and deaths, back to Maine. “This is a passion of mine, and no matter how much I try to move away from it, it just calls me back,” she said. 

Most of the work Grace does for the nonprofit is volunteer time. A partnership with Chevrolet funds the car seat inspection events, and volunteer technicians are offered a stipend to attend those, but the nonprofit does not have funding to pay for the behind the scenes work. Grace said she is supported by Maine Medical Center, as their injury prevention coordinator, to sit on the national child passenger safety board, which helps create the curriculum to train car seat technicians around the country.  But the behind the scenes work, like maintaining a website and promotion of events, does not have funding. The nonprofit would like to find a corporate sponsor to build the program, as well as promote the programs they currently offer. 

Attendance at the events can vary widely, said Grace, and promotion can at least let people know they are happening, as well as encouraging people to stop in even if they think they have installed their seats properly. “Our challenge is that we have over 90 percent of families who do it wrong, yet probably 90 percent of families think they’re doing it right,” she said. There are many nuances to proper installation and use of child safety seats, so Grace adds that one of their goals is to get people to understand that even if they think they are doing it properly, it’s a good idea to have a trained technician double check.

Grace said that often, once people have stopped in, they find out that there was something that wasn’t being done correctly. On the surveys people often say that they learned a great deal and are happy they stopped, said Grace.

The program in Windham has close to 50 car seats available for training purposes, and in addition to the monthly inspections, the organization offers certification classes to individuals interested in becoming a certified car seat technician. The class teaches the foundation of what to look for, such as recalls, identifying and correcting misuse, and knowing the resources available.

 Because there are so many car seats on the market, Grace said, nobody can know everything about all of them. That is why written resources are so important. “The vehicle’s owner manual and the car seat manual are two critical tools that a lot of people overlook,” she said, adding that she feels if people took the time to read the manuals, the misuse rate could be cut in half. 

Knowing a seat’s history is also crucial, said Grace. “What we warn families about is if you’re taking a car seat that you don’t know the history of, you’re taking a chance, hoping it’s going to withstand a crash, but you’re not really sure,” she said. 

As for using a car seat that has been involved in an accident, Grace said that they recommend contacting the car seat manufacturer to ask their advice. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a definition for a minor crash, in which case they say it is okay to continue using the car seat.  Some manufacturers recommend replacing the seat after any crash. Car insurance will often pay for the replacement of a car seat involved in an accident. 

The car seat safety events are free and open to the public, and go far beyond a quick inspection.  The technicians work with the families to teach them how to properly install and check their seats. “It’s all educational, hands on,” said Grace. “The people we interact with are happy to spend the time doing it, and our technicians are happy to help, so it’s a win-win for everybody all around.”

In Windham, car seat inspections have been happening since 2002 at the Windham Fire/Rescue building at 718 Roosevelt Trail. The event is held on the third Saturday of every month, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Windham site is the third most active site among the regular inspection locations, Grace said, with an average of 15-20 inspections each month.   Grace said that they also recommend that families return annually, or any time something changes – a new seat, change in the position of the seat, or a change in vehicles. Typically, she said, the ones that they see come in correctly are the repeat customers.

Child passenger safety is the biggest program of Tall Pine, but they also offer a variety of other services including workshops with parents, preschools, child care staff, a cub scout automotive safety patch, bicycle safety, water safety and playground safety.  While Safe targets children under the age of 14, the larger organization also covers injury prevention topics for all ages.

Safe Kids Maine offers free car seat inspections and education in eleven locations on a regular basis, as well as offering other quarterly and annual events in additional locations. The full schedule of events can be found on  Information on Tall Pine Safety Resource Center can be found at

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