ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, NS - A police officer holds an IV bag while paramedics work to stabilize the youth inside the wrecked car. The kid is trapped, and firefighters use the Jaws of Life to bust open the door to free her.
The girl in the back seat isn’t so lucky. She went through the back window during the crash and lies draped over the back of the car – dead. Or at least in the mock disaster scenario she was dead.
Her classmates watch the whole thing unfurl as a number of first response agencies work together in a car crash simulation designed to show students what can happen when you drive under impairment. In this case it’s drugs.
The girl responsible for the two-car crash is quickly singled out by police, and an RCMP officer has her perform a few standard sobriety tests – walking the line and standing on one foot. She fails miserably and the officer arrest her – hands behind her back, handcuffs on, escorted to the back seat of the RCMP SUV. Her next stop is jail.
There are no smiles, no jokes, even though this is just an exercise. It’s total concentration and focus by first responders. Police question the seemingly disoriented walking wounded. One youth yells that it isn’t fair. Perhaps in reference to his dead friend. If you didn’t know it was all staged – you wouldn’t know it was all staged.
“Two-vehicle MVA. It’s going to follow the MADD Canada program for impaired driving,” said Annapolis Royal Police Department’s Const. Jonathan Theriault prior to the simulation, “so as to give the students a reality check I guess you might want to call it just as they’re going into summer and graduation.”
Besides police, fire, and EHS, the local funeral home is involved, plus a local towing company. It’s all about not drinking or doing drugs and driving.
“It’s giving the kids who are going to graduate – I guess everybody but more so the graduating class this year – a kind of reality check as to what can happen if you’re drinking and driving and so on,” said Annapolis Royal Volunteer Fire Department Chief Malcolm Francis.
His hope is that he and his colleagues won’t have to respond to any similar incidents in real life. He said the simulated crash ties in with Safe Grad. “That’s pretty much what it’s all about, Safe Grad,” Francis said before the call came in just after 9:30 a.m.
Valley Communications termed it an ‘exercise’ and a pager was set up in the school so the call to first responders – and a description of the accident scene – could be heard in the school classrooms.
It was just like the real deal except the students wore makeup and were acting. All involved treated the ‘exercise’ as the real thing while students watching from the hill beside the school wore serious expressions – especially when the hearse backed up to the car and funeral home personnel got out with a gurney and a body bag.
Chad’s Garage in Port Wade donated the vehicles for the exercise.
“I try to help them out as much as possible,” said Chad Cronin. “They need to practice with the Jaws of Life, so I have a lot of vehicles that I’ve towed in … they’re great cars for donating. Today’s event is just a couple extra cars is all.”
He’s also part of the exercise – and ends up towing the cars away when it’s over.
“It was excellent,” said Const. Theriault after the hearse had driven away. “The students did an awesome job, fire service did an amazing job, our partnership with the RCMP – amazing.”
He also praised paramedics.
He said he thinks the message got through to students.
“There were a lot of straight faces in the crowd.”
Officers were handing out informational material to students as they headed back into the school and first responders were going to talk with students later in the day.
“I think the message was definitely received, and that being drinking and driving is not something you want to do no matter what,” said Adam Burns, Annapolis District RCMP’s Community Program Officer who attended the exercise with the new School Safety Resource Officer Const. Cheryl Ponee. “Especially right now. Grad season is upon us. Everybody’s going out and having a good time. That’s the main focus, right? To help these guys realize.”
He said the RCMP were fortunate to be asked to take part, and one of their members performed the field test with the driver. “She tested positive for drugs and she was arrested and taken away. It makes them realize they can be arrested for something else besides drinking and driving.”
Burns would like to see more of the same sort of educational exercises.
“I’d love to see more of this,” he said. “We were actually talking about making this an annual thing down here and hopefully getting it to Bridgetown and Middleton in the future. That’s our goal.”
Const. Theriault said it will be an annual exercise in Annapolis Royal.
“Our plan next year is to do the exact same thing,” he said. “We’re just going to go to a larger scale – more people involved.”