Mock collision warns against destructive behaviour

Matt Gardner
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The dangers of impaired driving would hardly come as news to members of St. Mary High School Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD).

For years, the student group has been one of the leaders of the local fight against intoxicated driving, helping to promote awareness of the issue through a variety of initiatives.

Even veteran group members, however, described their participation in a mock vehicle collision on Friday as a jarring experience.

“To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Grade 12 student and SADD member Kienan Holash said. “So to be part of it firsthand, it was eye-opening.

“It’s scary, you know? And I think everyone else can say that it kind of opened up their eyes a little bit (to the) things that can go wrong if you make poor choices on the road.”

Taking place in a parking lot outside the old Zellers, the mock accident involved SADD members playing different roles as other students watched from the sidelines and local police, paramedics and firefighters used the opportunity as a training exercise.

Holash, 18, played the role of an impaired driver who had been under the influence at the time of the “crash.”

“I’ve never been in the back seat of a police car -- got handcuffed,” Holash said. “It was a good experience.”

A member of SADD since Grade 9, Holash’s participation in the mock collision represented a culmination of the previous four years.

“Every year we kind of talk and plan a little bit more with it, and so I’m happy that we got to get it done before I graduate … It was lots of fun.”

St. Mary vice principal and SADD committee staff advisor Rob Tessier noted that many other students had long expressed a similar desire to stage a mock accident.

“That was a big thing for them, being able to create this event, trying to draw the attention of the community -- the people that just drive by,” Tessier said.

With the assistance of police, paramedics and firefighters, the long-gestating project become a reality this week.

Friday’s event marked the first time SADD had organized a mock accident, following other initiatives such as talking to drive-thru customers about the need to make safe choices and distributing bags with similar messages drawn by young children to liquor stores.

In the runup to the mock collision, St. Mary actively promoted the event among its pupils, encouraging them to tag along as spectators.

Aside from SADD members who played the impaired driver and a passenger in the backseat, this reporter also participated in the mock collision by playing a front seat passenger who found his legs and neck broken after the crash (applying a substantial amount of fake blood to look the part).

The need to extract a passenger unable to move his legs provided an ideal training opportunity for paramedics and firefighters on the scene.

Parkland Ambulance Paramedics public affairs director Lyle Karasiuk noted that the primary role of paramedics in such situations is to get into the vehicle and make sure victims are safe and comfortable.

“They want to make sure you understand, as the victim of this crash, what’s happening … that strange noise, the crunching metal, all the banging, because maybe you’ve been injured enough that you just don’t hear what’s going on. Maybe your injuries don’t allow you to … focus.”

During the mock accident, paramedics provided continual reassurance to the participating Daily Herald reporter, continually asking whether there was any pain or discomfort.

Upon applying a neck brace and covering the front seat passenger with a protective cover, the paramedics made way for the firefighters who used hydraulic rescue tools to extract the reporter from the car.

It’s scary, you know? I think everyone else can say that it kind of opened up their eyes a little bit (to the) things that can go wrong if you make poor choices on the road. Kienan Holash

“The value on something like this is it’s another opportunity to train on vehicle extrication using a vehicle that maybe they haven’t had an opportunity to practice on,” acting fire chief Jason Everitt said.

“Every vehicle’s different -- the dynamics, how the vehicle behaves when the forces are applied to it -- so it’s very important to try and get as much experience and exposure to a wide range of vehicles (as possible), and this is just another opportunity to do that.”

After ensuring the safety of the scene, firefighters stabilized the vehicle in order to prevent it from rocking.

With a small cervical spine injury, even millimetres of motion can result in “significant life-impairing injuries,” Everitt noted.

“One of the first things that we’ll do is we’ll stabilize the vehicle no matter what position it’s in -- sitting on the wheels, if it’s on the side, if it’s on the roof, and then we neutralize it. So we get in under the hood and actually disconnect the battery, and the reason for that is to eliminate any potential for fire as well as to assist in disabling the airbags that are in there.

“That’s a critical component,” he added. “If the vehicle is equipped with airbags, we want to make sure that they are disabled so that they don’t deploy and cause injury to either the victims or the rescuers when they’re working in close proximity.”

Everitt pointed out that firefighters will first try to open doors normally before resorting to such methods -- the operative rule being “try before you pry.”

After removing the Daily Herald reporter from the vehicle by securing him to a long spine board, paramedics loaded him onto an ambulance, which in a real motor vehicle incident would immediately depart for a hospital.

While the plot of Friday’s mock accident involved an impaired driver, Karasiuk said that the central message of the event -- “destructive behaviour changes lives” -- extends far beyond drugs and alcohol.

Everything from speeding to tired motorists to texting while driving to dealing with noisy children can render a motorist “impaired,” Karasiuk noted.

“I’m holding a water bottle in my hand as I’m doing this interview,” he said. “Let’s say this thing falls on the seat and all of a sudden I say, ‘Oh, the darn thing!’ and I reach down to grab it, and all of a sudden my hand just kind of drifts away from the wheel.

“It’s so easy to happen,” he added. “We see so many times where people will actually just not engage. People need to understand that driving … (requires) full-time attention.”

In advance of the long weekend, he urged drivers to slow down and check before entering their vehicles to make sure that children are wearing seatbelts, cellphones are put away and all cargo and luggage is secured.

With its mock collision finally accomplished, Tessier made clear that SADD will continue its fight against impaired driving, with members currently looking to produce a non-profit commercial on the subject.

Recalling a favourite expression of a past St. Mary graduate, he noted, “There are so many tragedies that happen in the world that you can’t control -- why are we allowing some of these to happen that you can control?

“Really, it’s one decision to make, right? If we can work together for everybody’s safety, then everything would be OK.”

Organizations: Zellers, SADD committee, Daily Herald

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