By Chris Caraveo
On an 88-degree day in April, an 18-month-old girl died after she was left in a vehicle in Glendale.
And as temperatures begin rising above 100 degrees in the late spring and summer months, public safety and health officials are teaming up to remind the public that not one more life should be lost to the heat.
“While I personally have not known someone who has perished due to heat, we all suffer its consequences,” Paul Iñiguez, science and operations officer at the National Weather Service in Phoenix, told the Daily News-Sun. “I think most people have experienced at least minor heat exhaustion. The heat impacts how we structure our days and lives. It impacts our wallets through higher energy costs.”
This summer the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is partnering with the Arizona Humane Society, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety for the “Don’t Leave Me Behind” Vehicular Heatstroke Campaign.
The campaign runs Monday, May 20 through August 31, starting with a kickoff at 10:30 a.m. today at Desert Ridge Marketplace. The goal is to make parents, guardians, and caregivers aware about the dangers of leaving young children and pets in unattended vehicles.
The MCAO said their 2018 summer campaign saw zero deaths in Maricopa County from children or pets being left in a hot vehicle.
“This year, tragically a young life was lost prior to the launch of the campaign and we are working to ensure that not one more life is lost this summer in our community,” the agency stated.
As part of the 2019 campaign, an updated SafeKidsAZ webpage is available. The website has information, tips and videos to help people understand the dangers of hot cars and how the tragic loss of life in these scenarios is 100% preventable.
“Leaving a child or pet in a vehicle is not only potentially fatal, in some circumstances it is a criminal offense,” the MCAO states.
In the Glendale case, a man in his 30s found his daughter unresponsive in a family vehicle as he was attempting to leave. He tried to perform CPR as authorities arrived, but the girl was dead.
Both parents were on scene talking with detectives. To date, they are not facing any charges.
“I would love to believe no one intentionally leaves their child in a vehicle to die a tragic death like this,” Glendale Officer Tiffany Ngalula said the afternoon of the death. “That’s the last thing I would wish on my child or any child in the Valley.”
The community can use the hashtag #DontLeaveMeBehind and follow the partner agencies on social media for more information and safety tips throughout the campaign.
In addition, the National Weather Service and the Arizona Department of Health Services are teaming up the week of May 27 their Arizona Heat Awareness Week Campaign to raise the overall awareness of being safe in the heat.
“This is at the core of our mission,” Mr. Iñiguez said about the NWS involvement. “Partnering with as many different entities as we can to get the message out on deadly heat is a natural action for us. While we are the experts on weather, we are not the experts on the health side of the impacts, which is another reason why these partnerships are important.”
Triple-digit temperatures start as early as April and last into September. The high temperatures increase the risk for heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
In 2018, Arizona hospitals had 3,016 emergency department visits for heat-related cases, according to the ADHS. Each year, the state sees an average of 108 deaths caused by the heat.
“Heat-related illness is preventable,” the ADHS states. “To help protect yourself, your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers you can take actions to prevent, recognize, and treat a heat-related illness. Arizonans are no strangers to the heat. We realize that not one person, organization, or agency can tackle this hazard alone.”
That sometimes includes helping friends and family members who need access to an air-conditioned space to cool off during the hottest part of the day.
Among those with the most risk are seniors who live alone.
“Be prepared. The majority of heat-related deaths are those 65 and older,” Mr. Iñiguez said, citing Maricopa County’s 2017 report that found 65 of 179 deaths were of people 65 and older. “Have a plan for if your AC unit breaks down (know who to call). If needed, there are many places to go in our communities to cool-down, including local businesses, and cooling shelters (the Maricopa Association of Governments coordinates the Heat Relief Network). Monitor forecasts (NWS provides the HeatRisk forecast, which is what we base warning decisions on). Check on your friends and family, or ask they check on you.”
Arizona, and especially in Maricopa County and the southern areas of the state, have seen relatively cooler temperatures into the spring months.
However, that shouldn’t be expected to continue, with Mr. Iñiguez saying there is little connection between spring temperatures and the following summer temperatures.
“Over the past several decades, our temperatures have been steadily changing, showing a strong upward trend (i.e. climate change),” he said.
The latest projections from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center indicate increased odds for above normal temperatures this summer.
“That does not rule out that temperatures could be cooler than normal, but the odds are stacked against it,” Mr. Iñiguez continued. “Despite this, we know we will certainly have hot days. We also know that temperatures even in the upper 90s can cause heat issues for people.”
Data from the Maricopa County Department of Public Health show that heat-related deaths occur throughout the late spring through early fall, with temperatures even closer to 100 degrees.
An Arizona Heat Awareness Week Website is available to help partners share information during the campaign. The website is currently being updated and will be ready before May 27.
The website includes an interactive map that shows locations of hydration stations, heat refuges, and collection sites in Maricopa County.
In efforts to keep people hydrated, anyone can get a free bottle of water at a hydration station or heat refuge.
Social media users can include the hashtags #AZHeat and #AZwx in their posts to promote the campaign.
During the 5-day campaign, the ADHS and the NWS will be displaying messages on heat safety using the acronym H.E.A.T. that people can also repost, although self-made messages are also encouraged.
“Messages will help remind family, friends, and visitors about ways to stay safe in the heat,” the ADHS states. “We hope to surpass our reach from last year, which showed more than 437,000 people saw our heat safety messages on social media.”