GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Fire Department was presented with an ‘Infant Safe Sleep’ certification by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday. It is the first department in the state to receive the certification.

Through a recently reinvigorated Infant Safe Sleep program, GRFD is training its firefighters to recognize unsafe-sleep practices and offer caregivers safe-sleep education and resources.

According to GRFD, the department has responded to 14 infant deaths over the last two years. Eight of those deaths were connected to unsafe sleep practices. GRFD Lt. Jim Betz said one of the biggest issues was co-sleeping.

He explained the safe sleep program was reinvigorated because of a committee he is on.

“We review case files for infants that die in Kent County,” Betz said. “We found that there was a need for a safe sleep program because more and more infants were dying of sleep-related deaths.”

Betz is a pediatric champion, Dr. Samantha Mishra with the state of Michigan said.

“A champion takes just a little bit of extra effort to make sure that we’re ready to take care of kids when they’re critically ill or injured,” Mishra said. “Jim has been an upstanding pediatric champion and really helped to reinvigorate this entire program, not only here in the county, but … this safe sleep program is now being rolled out statewide. And a large part of that is due to the fact that he does advocate for readiness.”

Multiple Kent County fire departments, including agencies in Kentwood, Caledonia, Alpine and Walker, are participating in the program.

For more information on the program and safe sleep practices, go to