When I take my 5 year old son, Kenta, to school in the mornings, my routine is usually to park my car, put our 14 months old in a stroller and walk him to his classroom. But last Thursday morning I drove my husband’s Honda Civic hatchback as he needed a bigger car that day to do some errands after work requiring the bigger car. So on that morning, I did something different; I just dropped him off at the curve. The plan was to watch him walk up the ramp to school before driving away. I parked the car in the loading zone, got out the car, got Kenta out of the car, walked to the other side to get his backpack and jacket from passenger seat. Just when I was about to say “good bye”, Kenta shut the door. A moment later, I realized that the door was locked, even though it was not all the way shut, with the car keys in the ignition, and of course, baby still in the car.
“Oh my…” A panic went through my head and body. I tried to wiggle the half-shut door to see if I could open it, but I knew it wouldn’t work – I had done this a few times, a long long time ago. My cell phone was in the car too and I didn’t have my husband’s work phone number or road side assistance number memorized. It was clear that I needed to get some help from strangers. Just then, Kenta’s classmate Alex’s dad walked by. We ran into each other in the morning all the time and we always waved at each other. I walked up to him and asked if he had a moment. He said “sure”, so I explained the situation and asked him to stay by the car while I ran up to the office to get help with figuring out the phone number to call.
I walked with Kenta and left him with his class line at the daily morning assembly, and ran to the school office. “Excuse me”, I said in a hasty tone, “I need some help! I locked myself out of the car, with the key in the ignition and my baby is in the car”. While I was saying that, there was a dad dropping off a piece of paper at the office. He heard me and said “Baby in the car?”, and offered to use his cell phone. School office staff quickly found the number I wanted to call off the internet, and that dad and I started walking towards the car while he was making the call. When we arrived at the car, he saw the car, and the baby in the car and said “I am a fire fighter. Let’s call my buddy, they’ll be here faster than the road side assistance”.
So he made the call. While waiting, a police car drove by and asked if everything was ok as they saw three of us standing next to a car with a baby inside. The firefighter dad said “yes, the engine’s coming”. We chatted while waiting, I said “I hope I am not keeping you two away from your work”. The man I thought was Alex’s dad said “No, I am a retired grandfather, I’ve got nowhere to go anytime soon”. Also the firefighter dad was not on duty that day, all he had was a dentist appointment in an hour. He also explained that the firefighters are called to open a locked car door if there is somebody in danger, and it’s a good practice for the firefighters. Even though the car was parked in a shade, and baby seems to be just smiling and all, I felt so much better knowing that the help was on the way. After a few minutes, a shiny fire engine appeared. Four firefighters got to work from both side of the car, and the door opened in no time. I was almost in tears and I thanked everyone, especially the firefighter dad.
After they left, I re-park the car, took my baby out and walked back to the school office, letting them know that everything went well. I then walked to Kenta’s classroom and told him that the firefighters came and helped us (to that he said “hey, not fair!”, meaning he wanted to be there). We then drove home.
When I look back this incident, I feel incredibly lucky. Yes, I could have avoided all of that if I had taken out the keys, or made sure the doors were not locked – or not get out of the car without my cell phone on me. Also, when I realized what happened, my first instinct was to call 911, but I didn’t because I was afraid to do so, and talked to myself out of it by thinking “the car is parked in a shade, and road side assistance is pretty quick too”. So I was grateful that firefighter dad was there when I was asking for help, and made that call for me. He said later that the road side assistance would have told me to call 911 in this kind of situation. So here it is, the lessons learned; Trust your instinct! Nevertheless, I am so grateful for the angle that appeared that morning when I doubted myself. Also I am eternally grateful for our society’s first responders!!
PS…. I figured out where the fire engine came from, so I stopped by there today to express my gratitude. They were really nice and showed us around the firehouse, which made my boys’ day!