On the anniversary of a state law granting immunity to passersby who act to save animals or children trapped in hot cars, local law-enforcement officials are reminding residents to call 911 first.

Senate Bill 215, which became effective Aug. 31, 2016, granted civil immunity for damage caused by breaking into a vehicle to remove a minor or pet "in imminent danger of suffering harm."

The law requires a person to make "a good-faith effort" to contact fire or police officials, or a 911 operator before taking action.

Police officials in Delaware County said reaching out to first responders is an important step.

Powell police Chief Gary Vest said his officers will respond promptly if a caller reports an animal or child left alone in a locked car.

"Because we're in an urban area with quick response time, people would be encouraged to contact the police department," he said.

Vest said the department's officers have equipment suited for opening locked cars without damaging them. He said a conflict also could arise if a person smashes a car's window before an officer arrives.

"They may have a very irate dog owner who may not agree with their assessment," he said.

Vest said the outside temperature and time the vehicle is left determine how dangerous the situation is for an animal or child. Even if the outside temperature feels pleasant, the temperature inside a car can become dangerous in a matter of minutes.

According to a 2003 San Francisco State University study, the temperature inside a car can exceed 100 degrees within 20 to 30 minutes when the outside temperature is in the low 70s. If the temperature outside is greater than 90, the temperature inside a car can top 110 degrees within 10 minutes.

Michael San Filippo, media specialist for the American Veterinary Medical Association based in Schaumburg, Ill., said he doesn't have specific statistics on how many pets have died unattended in hot vehicles, because no organization or agency collects that information, as far as he knows.

"While we can't say how many have died, we can say it's too many," San Filippo said.

"Hopefully, laws like the one passed in Ohio will help people save the lives of pets in danger of heatstroke, while also raising awareness of how deadly it can be to leave pets unattended in vehicles," he said.

According to advocacy group kidsandcars.org, an average of 37 children per year in the U.S. die "heat-related deaths" after being trapped in cars.

Tracy Whited, spokeswoman for the Delaware County Sheriff's Office, said via email emergency dispatchers can help callers determine the best course of action.

"First and foremost, call 911," she said. "A dispatcher would ask specific questions to help ascertain the severity (of the situation) and could provide information and guidance to the caller."

Whited said the dispatcher also could provide the caller with information about a police or fire department's potential arrival time.

Vest and Whited said they could not recall or find records of cases in which their departments responded to a report of a civilian breaking into a car to save a child or pet.

According to Powell police records, city officers have responded to reports of dogs left unattended in vehicles 11 times in 2017. Two of the cases resulted in officers filing charges of cruelty to animals.

ThisWeek reporter Marla K. Kuhlman contributed to this report.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

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