Pittsburgh Home Safety Van aims to keep our kids injury free

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC created a mobile replica house, the  Prevention Home Safety Van, to bring lessons to parents about the surprising dangers their kids can face in their own homes.

“We’re able to go out to pediatricians’ offices and just set up at family resource centers,” says Chris Vitale, manager of injury prevention at Children’s Hospital. “We’re going to go as many places as we can get to. We want to go provide the education, provide the resources for families.”

Children’s Hospital has operated a safety center inside the hospital for eight years. To reach more parents, they decided to take the program on the road.

“We really want to get to families right where they live,” Vitale says.

Participating parents leave with safety-themed items, such as a child-proofing kit, smoke detector or gun lock. The best part: Everything is free. Lawyer John Gismondi and the Gismondi Family Foundation funded the project for the van and resources.

This display shows how easily kids can mistake a caustic danger for a food product. Photo by Stephanie Hacke.

“We look at how kids hurt themselves,” Vitale says.

To that end, presentations highlight the biggest hazards found in homes. The van includes a small window, a television set and bathroom setup, so parents can see the dangers kids can encounter.

“The van itself draws people in and gets them to talk about ways to make their home safer,” says Zach Musico, community program specialist.

Presenters talk with parents about everything from gun safety to why your little ones shouldn’t be in the kitchen when you’re cooking. They even offer safety gates to help.

The battery and hot dog demonstration leaves visitors shocked by the outcome. Photo by Stephanie Hacke.

A big talking point during the demonstration focuses on the button batteries that light up or make music inside of greeting cards. The batteries can eat away at a child’s esophagus if swallowed. A hot dog on the stove at the demonstration has three small button batteries inside. The batteries cook the hot dog from the inside. That’s what it does to a human body if a child swallows a battery. It’s a visual demonstration that graphically makes the point.

To schedule a visit to your neighborhood or organization, call Children’s Hospital’s at 412-692-5325 and ask for the injury prevention department. Home safety presentations can be customized according to your group’s needs.