Other public service agencies, including Medford police, Medford Fire-Rescue, Jackson County Fire District 4 and Applegate Valley Fire District 9, will also receive training.
The program began in Florida in 2012 and has since been adopted in 11 U.S. states. Oregon makes 12, and Jackson County is the first county to adopt it.
Under the program, firefighters offer infant “environmental checks,” looking for hazards in the home and the space where babies sleep, and removing them. They also hand out “baby safe sleep kits,” which will include information about safer sleep for infants, such as putting babies on their backs, and removing loose blankets, bumpers and toys.
About $7,000 in grant funding has allowed the Children’s Advocacy Center and Jackson County Health & Human Services to purchase 50 pack-and-play beds for families in need, according to Ann Ackles, nursing supervisor for maternal child health at Jackson County Health & Human Services.
For Ackles, who also serves on a county committee that reviews childhood deaths, sleep-related infant deaths, commonly referred to as SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) or SUID (sudden unexplained infant death), have long been a problem. Between 2013 and 2018, Jackson County emergency services agencies responded to 15 sleep-related deaths of children younger than 1, according to county data.
“I’ve been on the committee for five years, and it’s tragic, every meeting there’s a sleep-related death,” Ackles said. “We’ve lost 15 infants in a five-year period of time.”
Statewide, about 40 babies younger than 1 die in their sleep annually, Oregon Health Authority data show. The local search for a solution to the problem began in December of last year.
“We said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’ Parents don’t want to put their baby down to go to sleep and they die,” Ackles said.
In 2012, the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had been dealing with the problem, responding to seven sleep-related infant deaths that year alone. Two years after implementing the program under nurse practitioner Jennifer Combs and Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Captain James Carroll, Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue responded to a single incident in 2014. From 2015 to 2017, there were eight, one more than there had been in just 2012. And the agency is working to further reduce the number.
“Our mission is to reduce the number of preventable deaths to zero,” Carroll said in a news release.
“We get used to seeing calls that a lot of people aren’t comfortable with, but in no way, shape or form is anyone comfortable with running pediatric calls, especially pediatric-related deaths,” Harrington said. “They’re ones that ... leave scars on you. Permanently. And so anything we can do to reduce infant mortality is a win for us, and it’s a win for the citizens that we serve.”