TRACY -- The Tracy Fire Department will soon be giving away 275 new children's car seats to families in need.

The money for the seats, which will be paid initially by the city, will be reimbursed by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety. The program, administered by the National Highway Safety Administration, will pay out up to $26,500 for the seats.

"We've found that even the best-informed and well-intentioned parents can make (car seat) instillation mistakes. Our technicians have observed children in the wrong seats for their size, children in recalled or damaged car seats, seats that are not properly secured to the vehicle and some children that are not restrained at all," Fire Chief Al Nero told the City Council at a recent meeting.

In order for Tracy Fire Department to qualify for the grant, officials had to submit statistics for car crash injuries in their service area along with a description of the current car seat program. The Tracy Fire Department's service area is surrounded by both interstates and state freeways.

The department's Child Automotive Restraint Education and Safety car seat program, also known as C.A.R.E.S., has four certified car seat technicians and has inspected more than 2,000 car seats since 2001, said fire Capt. Jim Haskell.

"I started this program when I was a new dad and looking for a car seat for my daughter," he said. "I did some research and found that some cities had car seat technicians.


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"After I became certified, I worked to bring this program to Tracy. It feels good to be able to provide a new car seat to a family that could help protect their child. This new grant will allow us to help provide additional car seats to those families in need and also help educate more people about car seat safety."

The grant money covers the cost of properly fitting a minimum of 275 children in child safety seats, distributing a minimum of 275 child safety seats to families in need at no cost, recertifying three of the car seat technicians, conducting a seat belt usage survey and conducting four public child safety checkup events along with appointment-based inspections.

The first public child safety checkup event of the new year is scheduled for Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Parker Avenue entrance of El Pescadero Park in Tracy.

"I am hoping we will be able to secure some new car seats for the event at the park," added Haskell. "This is a really great program, and I've made many friends in the community through it. Also, through this grant we will be able to help more people."

Appointments for free car seat inspections or installations are available through the C.A.R.E.S. hotline 209-831-4000, ext. 1701.

According to SafeKids.org, correctly installed child safety seats may reduce the risk of death as much as 71 percent.

Reach correspondent Anne Marie Fuller at annemarietv@juno.com.

safety seat inspections
A free car seat inspection will be held 1-3 p.m. Saturday at the Parker Avenue entrance to El Pescadero Park in Tracy. Appointments for free car seat inspections or installations are also available by calling 209-831-4000, ext. 1701.