Protect your children from frostbite and hypothermia

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- I recently attended the monthly Crawford Parent Advisory Committee meeting at the school library. The topic of the meeting this month was to show the frostbite and hypothermia video that all, approximately 400, Crawford Elementary School students saw earlier this year. It was pretty graphic, but made some very blatant points about the care parents should be taking in ensuring their children are adequately protected.

My question is, why were there only two parents there (a parent/paid aide from the school and me)? I do know that it was pretty disturbing since the school principal reported, in an article on frostbite, that in November there were over 30 students who showed up at school inadequately dressed for the cold; daily temperatures were around -15 F. That number was without all teachers reporting in and is a continuing daily occurrence at Crawford. What parents don't seem to realize is that cars break down, fire drills and evacuation events do occur during the school day, and that kids go outside for 30 minutes during recess daily unless the temperature falls below -20 F.

Once the kids leave school, how do they get home? What if the bus breaks down? What if the bus is late? Are they walking home? There are too many what if questions for something so easily taken care of. These children are 8-12 years old and the teachers and aides have to stand at the doors reminding them repeatedly to put on gloves, hats, coats, boots, etc.

The video presented, required by the Fairbanks North Star Borough, showed what can happen when the joints and long bones of growing children are frostbitten or subjected to extreme cold. The cartilaginous tissue, forming bone and growth plates, is damaged and can result in stunted growth, joints that don't work, blisters the size of small water balloons, loss of fingers, toes, feet, hands, and more. These growth plates and cartilaginous tissues aren't mature until a person reaches 18-21 years of age. How many junior high and high school students have you seen walking in flip flops or thin jackets throughout the winter, because it looks cool and their tough?

Helpful tips were shown like how quickly any liquid that comes in contact with skin can freeze tissues at temperatures below freezing, 32 F, almost instantaneously. How many times have diapers leaked, sucked thumbs gone ungloved, or drinks been spilled on kids and then they head out to the cold without being dried?

The take home message was "Listen to your body."
If you are cold, get inside, change to warm, dry clothes and don't stay outside just to "be cool."
· Layer clothes
· Wear waterproof gloves and shoes
· Keep liquid away from skin; this includes water, gasoline, alcohol, soda, etc.

Hypothermia signs:
· Skin turns white, is numb (loses feeling), and it becomes difficult to bend or move (i.e. can't make a fist)
· Followed by blue lips, a chilled to the bone feeling
· Severe problems start when dizziness begins and difficulty speaking becomes apparent.
· The last stage is sleepiness

Treatment should be sought immediately with a professional. Re-warming someone with hypothermia requires cool water to allow the tissues to warm slowly. Hot water or hot blankets can actually do more damage to the frozen cells.

The principal's concern is seen daily, as she has 6-8 students in her office every morning to find out why they have come to school unprepared for the weather.

The word just doesn't seem to be getting out about these important issues that the Parent Advisory Committee meeting reviews every month.

What I do as an adult is my own business, yet I should still set an example. My coat is always in the truck with gloves. I have emergency kits, which have emergency equipment, warming blankets and other items. My children are my charge and even though my husband has been through arctic survival training and all other base required courses on frostbite and hypothermia as part of his active duty status, I have seen only a few classes. I went, because I sought them out and attended them to make sure I knew what to do.

I now know what to do, but how many people on base are just blindly assuming the school will take care of outfitting their kids in the cold? Do people realize the school doesn't have funds to outfit children, or have a room for them to go to when it's their recess time? Thirty students without cold weather gear is more than a classroom full.

As a concerned parent and part of this base's proud force, please take a moment and check your children. If you need help outfitting them properly, both the Airman's Attic and Thrift Shop have clothing. The Child Development Center held a winter gear swap in September which will become an annual event. Your children are your greatest asset and they are completely dependant on you too look out for them; don't let them become a statistic.

Get involved, get engaged; make your resolution now to participate in your child's life daily and support the teachers and aides who work so hard to keep your kids safe while at school.