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Bozeman Fire Inspector Offers Tips for Child Car Seat Installation

When you become a parent there are many new things to learn: how to change a diaper, how to exit the house successfully without forgetting something, how to function on less than two hours of uninterrupted sleep.

For me, the car seat installation was an especially intimidating task. What if I didn’t put it in right? What are all those straps for? 

True story: While I was pregnant, I had lunch with a friend and afterwards was helping buckle her kids into her car when I put the shoulder strap under the poor kid’s armpit and buckled her up. Done! My friend kindly unbuckled it and safety strapped her daughter into the car seat herself.

So you can see why I was a little nervous being left in charge of my own child’s safety in a moving vehicle.

When I heard that the Bozeman Fire Department does car seat inspections, I knew I had to get down there to ease my mind and make sure my son was safe.

What the fire department does is check your car seat to make sure it’s installed properly and educate you on how to install the seat yourself. They don’t just do it for you (that’s what I originally thought). That way, if you move the seat to another vehicle, you know what you’re doing.

Bozeman Fire Inspector Scott Mueller’s first tip was to read your car seat’s owner’s manual (I have no idea where the manual is). Some other tips he offered included making sure the harness straps are adjusted and tightened properly. The harness should be at the child’s armpit level.

When clipping and strapping the car seat into the car, make sure it’s snug.

Car seats in vehicles need to move less than an inch side to side in the belt path. When tightening the seat into the car, pull the belts to make it as tight as you can.

“It’s full-contact sport,” Mueller joked, showing me how to manhandle the car seat, pushing in into the backseat of my vehicle while tightening the belt that anchored it down.

Four out of five car seats are installed wrong, Mueller told me.

These are some of the most common mistakes firefighters see with car seats – they’re not in the vehicles tight enough and the harnesses aren’t snug enough or the retainer clips are placed too low on the child’s body (they should be at armpit level). Other mistakes they see are children too big for their car seats or car seats that are expired.

If you have any questions about your car seat, your local fire department can be a great resource. Bozeman fire stations and other area fire stations offer car seat inspections.

In Bozeman, you can schedule one by calling 406-582-2350. For the appointment, Mueller says to plan on about 15 minutes. CLICK HERE for more information.

After meeting with Mueller, I can now check this off my list of things to learn as a parent.

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