LINCOLN SQUARE — With his first child due any day, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) faced a challenge more nerve-wracking than a City Council budget vote: installing an infant car seat.
"They make it look really easy in the store," said Pawar, who married his former chief of staff Charna Epstein in December 2014.
Lacking confidence in his own abilities, the dad-to-be turned to the experts at the Foster Police District for help.
Maybe the part where Cmdr. Sean Loughran offered tips on burp cloths, but otherwise, no. Infant car seat education and assistance is a service officers will provide to every Joe and Jane Citizen.
Firefighters no longer conduct car seat inspections at the station house level but each police district has two officers, available by appointment, who have been trained and certified in child seat safety.
"It's a four-day process — that's real buy-in from officers," Loughran said of the training. "Who better to ensure that people are doing it safely."
Jean Maroney, a retired officer who served in the traffic safety division, walked Pawar through installation do's and don't's.
With so many different models of cars, seat belt systems and car seats on the market, eight out of 10 child seats are installed incorrectly, Maroney said.
"And that eight out of 10 is only for people using them," she added.
Plenty of infants and toddlers are bouncing around on laps, and Maroney won't hesitate to use words like "internal decapitation" to scare parents straight.
The biggest mistakes, she said, are putting the five-point harness on too loosely and securing it too low on the child's body.
"It should be at armpit level," Maroney said.
Another major "don't" that Maroney knows rankles a lot of parents of toddlers but one that in her opinion isn't up for debate: Don't turn the seat forward-facing until the child turns 2 years old.
Foster District CAPS officer Libby Godinez, also certified in child seat safety, said she's heard all of the excuses.
"I get it all the time — 'My child is too big or he's uncomfortable or I can't see him,'" Godinez said.
"If a child is pushing his legs off the back seat, that child is exercising," she said.
"There's not one report of a broken leg" from a toddler in a rear-facing seat, Maroney noted.
"And it's easier to fix a leg than a spinal cord," she added.
At the end of the near hour-long session, Pawar had been shown how to secure the seat base in various positions in his car and how to harness a stuffed animal that was admittedly less squirmy than a newborn.
"I gotta start practicing," he said.
The 47th Ward and Foster District will jointly host a child seat safety event from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. March 4, at 5400 N. Lincoln Ave.
Bring your car and your seat but be advised, officers will demonstrate how to properly install a child seat, but parents have to do the actual work.
"We are not installers," Maroney said. "We're educators."
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