Does the Fire Department Install Car Seats?


baby boy sitting in a car seat

The car seat you purchased had seemed so straightforward when you read the instructions, yet you’re struggling to get the seat securely installed in your car. You’re thinking of calling the manufacturer when you suddenly have an idea. Does the fire department install car seats?

Many fire departments will install and check car seats, but they need to have a child passenger safety technician on hand to do it. Not as many firefighters are also CPS techs anymore due to liability risk. You should certainly call and ask before you assume the fire department can help.

In this article, we’ll talk more about child passenger safety (CPS) training and what it entails as well as whether the fire department gives out free car seats. Make sure you keep reading, as this is one article that new parents (or grandparents) will find particularly useful! 

Does the Fire Department Install Car Seats?

Many years ago, fire departments across the country installed car seats for expectant or new parents often enough that firefighters became known for it. 

It hasn’t been done away with entirely, but nowadays, there are fewer fire departments that still install car seats. We’ll talk more about why in the next section.

However, depending on where you live they may have CPS technicians on every shift. For example, where I work, we have 4 CPS technicians who install car seats for residents almost every day. I should also mention that this service is completely free!

For now, let’s discuss the training required to offer this service. The firefighters that are eligible to install car seats have a National Child Passenger Safety Certification through an organization called Safe Kids Worldwide. 

A CPS-certified tech “uses their considerable knowledge and expertise at a variety of community-based activities, such as child safety seat checks, where parents and caregivers receive education and hands-on assistance. CPS technicians and instructors also keep up-to-date on the latest technical information about child passenger safety,” says the CPS website. 

The CPS techs at fire departments are firefighters themselves. They’ve taken what little personal time they have and applied it towards earning their CPS certification. Getting certified isn’t free, so they may be paying money out of their own pocket as well.   

On top of that, having a CPS certification isn’t forever. You have to recertify to stay current. The CPS website mentions that, in 2021, there are 3,003 new certified techs and 6,344 who have recertified. That’s not many. 

These people are scattered throughout the country. You’d have to hope that a firefighter is one of those certified CPS techs and that they happen to be there on the day that you visit to get your car seat installed. Or, you can call ahead and make an appointment for a particular day and time.

Why Don’t Firefighters Install Car Seats as Often Anymore?

Is there a reason that many firefighters have given up on installing car seats? Perhaps they weren’t making money doing so or today’s firefighters are far too busy. 

It’s not exactly any of that. The primary reason why firefighters are a lot more reluctant to install car seats for parents anymore comes down to one thing: the liability.

Let’s for a moment imagine a ghastly scenario. A parent goes to a firefighter/CPS to get their child’s car seat installed and then they get in an accident. The car seat does not stay secure during the crash.

Who do you think the parents are going to blame, the makers of the car seat or the person who installed it? Maybe both, but more than likely, they’ll point the finger squarely at the firefighter. 

Now remember, this firefighter could have turned them down, but because they wanted to help, they didn’t say no. Since they didn’t, they’re being slapped with a lawsuit that could damage their life personally and professionally.

Perhaps the parents sued only the firefighter or their fire department too in the hopes of getting more money. Either way, this is bad press that no fire department wants. The lawsuit could cost the fire department hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in some cases, possibly bankrupting them. 

Whether the child was only injured or even killed, a firefighter does not want to feel like they’re culpable for that. That can be a very traumatizing experience for them, especially when combined with the lawsuit from the parents. 

Are some firefighters/CPS techs willing to assume that risk? Yes, but many more are not. Thus, even though you might come across a firefighter with CPS training at your local fire department, they could turn you down anyway if you ask them to install a car seat for you. 

Do Fire Departments Give Out Free Car Seats?

You may have also heard that fire departments offer free car seats. 

Considering that the average cost of a car seat is between $100 and $300, any chance for new parents to pocket that cash is going to be welcome. They can use the money on diapers, baby clothes or shoes, baby food, or a whole myriad of other stuff that growing babies need.

So, is it true? Do fire departments indeed give out free car seats? Possibly, but again, it depends on the fire department. If your local fire department doesn’t install car seats, then they might decline to hand them out as well. 

The reasoning is the same. If the car seat malfunctions or fails, the parents could turn around and blame the fire department for giving them a faulty car seat.

Fire departments also might not offer free car seats as a cost-saving measure. After all, that $200 car seat has to come out of someone’s pocket!

If you’re really looking for a free car seat, here are some places outside of your local fire department that you can try.

Police Department

Take a drive over to your city or town’s police department and ask the front desk about free car seats. Like firefighters, some police officers are CPS-certified so they can possibly install the car seat for you as well. 

Insurance Company

Although this depends on the insurance company, if you know you’re pregnant or you’re soon to give birth, get in touch with your insurance provider and let them know. Your insurance policy might be able to cover part of or the entirety of the car seat cost. 

Hospital

Before you bring home your bouncing baby boy or girl for the first time, check in with the staff at the hospital about you potentially getting a free car seat. If the hospital can’t provide you with one, then their staff might recommend you an organization that can. 

Nonprofits 

Lots of nonprofits are happy to help new parents, especially those with low incomes, who are struggling to make ends meet with a new baby. These organizations can provide you not only with a free car seat (and possibly other freebies for baby), but training, education, and resources for managing your life with a new child. 

Does the Hospital Check Your Car Seat? 

You decided to install the car seat yourself rather than burden the fire department with the responsibility. That said, you would feel a whole lot better if a professional checked the security of your car seat before you use it. Do hospitals offer this service?

Most do, yes! According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the staff at the hospital will test the car seat up to a week ahead of your baby’s discharge date. You have to bring the car seat with you. Then the staff at the hospital will put your child in the seat and simulate the ride time home.

They’ll review your baby’s oxygen levels, breathing, and heart rate to ensure the baby is healthy enough to use the car seat. 

You can also ask the nurses and other staff to show you and your spouse or partner about the proper usage of the car seat, which they should be more than willing to do. 

For example, before I became a firefighter, I worked in a pediatric emergency room at one large hospital in Cleveland. There we had several child life specialists on hand who were all car seat certified. Any parent, grandparent, or person who wanted to have their car seat checked could stop by the emergency room and a child life specialist would install and educate them on car seat safety.

Finally, fire departments can install car seats, but only if the firefighters have an active CPS certification. Car seat installation doesn’t happen as often in fire departments anymore due to liability risk. That said, you can always check in with your local police department or hospital about car seat installation help. You might even be able to get a free car seat while you’re there! 

FirefighterNOW

I’m Mike, I’m a full time firefighter/paramedic/diver for a department just west of Cleveland, Ohio and the founder of FirefighterNOW. I’m also a columnist for FireRescue1. If you’re reading this blog my guess is you are interested in the fire service. There's information on fitness, gear, interviews, tests and more. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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