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When it comes to safe sleep education, the Haines City Fire Department is a trailblazer.
On Sept. 9, the agency became the first in Polk County to be certified to implement the Direct On Scene Education (DOSE) Safe Sleep program. The program was founded in 2011 by Jennifer Combs, a longtime nurse practitioner working in maternal and child health, and James Carroll, a captain at the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department – the first agency certified to administer the program. Combs and Carroll were on hand to certify the department.
The program teaches first responders how to disseminate safe sleep education to their communities. The Haines City Fire Department is partnering with the Safe Sleep Task Force, which is made up of medical and health professionals, to assist with referrals, education and grant funding. Since the program was founded, more than 5,000 firefighters in 13 different states have received certification.
Aspects of the program include providing educational materials, in-home assessments and holding educational events. Firefighters and paramedics will offer assessments when on calls to locations with a baby present. The Haines City Fire Department is also now qualified to certify other agencies who wish to implement the program.
“The ultimate goal of this program is to educate families in our community and save babies’ lives,” said Jeffrey Davidson, Haines City Fire Chief. “As we provide this information to our residents and help certify neighboring agencies, I truly believe we’ll see the number of infant deaths trend downward. In partnering with the Safe Sleep Task Force, the possibilities for what we can do with this program are endless.”
According to the Safe Sleep Task Force, there were 55 infant deaths in Polk County in 2019. Polk County’s rate of 6.7 infant deaths per 1,000 births in 2019 was higher than the state average. Infant mortality rates were higher among Black and Hispanic families in 2019 – both statewide and in Polk County. In the United States, there are about 3,500 sudden unexpected infant deaths annually.
“A program like this has long been needed in our community and we’re excited to be working alongside the Haines City Fire Department,” said Tracey McKinney, chairwoman for Safe Sleep Task Force. “To be able to provide resources and knowledge to families to ensure their babies’ safety is invaluable. We expect this program to have a significant impact for generations to come.”