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Seat Installation Instruction: Baby and All

What good is a car seat if it's not installed correctly? None.

That's the message from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. And it backs it up with free instructions and demonstrations every other week at fire stations throughout the county.

On March 22, drivers started lining up before 9 a.m. at Mount Vernon Station 9 at 2601 Sherwood Hall Lane to avail themselves of the free instruction and inspection. Inside, firefighter technicians aided parents and caregivers in making sure the child safety seats were properly secured.

"We average about 60 cars at each location," Renee Stillwell, education public information officer for the department, explained. "Usually installation time averages 30 minutes per seat by the technicians, who have special training."

Last Friday there were four cars at a time in the engine bay being worked on by technicians. "Small sport cars are tougher to work on because of the limited space," Firefighter Technician Curt Hoffman said, as he fitted a new seat into Terri Richards’ Ford Probe.

Firefighter EMS Technician Barry Mahon had it a little easier as he made adjustments to a child seat in the rear of Courtney Winter's four-door Honda. He also had a very practical reference point. Winter's baby, Riley, was already in the seat and studying Mahon's every move.

The benefit of having parents and caregivers assist in the inspection/installation procedure is that it helps provide them with the necessary training to reinstall the seat when it is removed from the vehicle, according to the department.

Drivers are requested to have the seat or seats installed before arriving at the checkpoint. This enables the technicians to evaluate their proficiency in the procedure.

"We prefer to hold the checkpoints at a fire station so that we can get the vehicle inside to do the inspection," Stillwell noted. "That way we are not affected by weather, and the training is more effective." Inspections are conducted from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., rotating among the 35 county stations.