Police, fire and EMS responders from Patton and Carrolltown rushed to Cambria Heights High School Thursday afternoon, responding to a call that detailed a two-vehicle accident with entrapment.
Although it was a drill, designed to be a graphic depiction of what happens when unsafe driving practices lead to a wreck, the message sent to the dozens of students surrounding the scene was clear.
“You could hear a pin drop,” said Pamela Kane, safety press officer for PennDOT. “Those kids seemed to be really into this.”
It was part of the school’s Operation Prom Promise program, which educates students on the dangers of impaired, distracted or aggressive driving. A simulated crash was staged just after 2 p.m. in the high school parking lot.
“We want to have them learn what it’s really like to make the wrong decision,” said Jerry Brant, public information officer for Patton Fire Company.
A handful of Cambria Heights drama students, using two junked vehicles sitting nose-to-nose and at least a pint of fake blood, tried to make the scene as realistic as possible.
Emergency units were called, arriving on scene with lights spinning and sirens wailing. The young actors shrieked and sobbed and, although the portrayal was first met with giggles, onlookers’ demeanors quickly turned sober.
“It’s just the harsh reality, really. If you drink and drive, this stuff can happen,” said senior Beau Buterbaugh, who said he likes to play it safe. “My parents have taught me over the years that nothing good can come of (drunken driving).”
Kane said the simulation program has tried to reach as many schools as possible across the six counties that she covers. Operation Prom Promise originated at a time when vehicle accidents caused on prom night by drunken or careless students – out enjoying what is, for many, the most highly anticipated night of their high school years – were on the rise.
“That’s the reason for the additional education with the school districts at this time of year,” she said. “We just want to be certain that we get through to these kids and explain to them the importance (of driving safely). We really want to make it as realistic as possible and intense.”
For senior Dustin Strittmatter, emergency response runs in the family. His sister is a Patton fire responder and his father is deputy fire chief for the company.
“I saw (an actual crash) before. I came up on it (while driving). It was scary,” he said. “It made me think about it, just seeing it happen again, but this time it was a demonstration.”
He said he also noticed the few students who were jeering once the actors began screaming and flailing helplessly.
“They probably should take it more seriously,” he said. “If it really did happen, they probably wouldn’t be joking about this.”
As the jaws of life pried the doors off a silver sedan – whose driver was pronounced “dead” and bodybagged right in front of the student audience – the driver of the second car was submitting to a field sobriety test, stumbling to failure. She cried out as she was led in cuffs past the innocent she’d “killed.”“(The actors) did a fantastic job. I was really impressed with the young lady who was supposed to be DUI,” said Kane, who said she’d been close with youths involved in fatal accidents before.
“If I never ever have to talk to another parent who’s lost a child again, it’ll be too soon. ... Young kids shouldn’t die before their parents.”
Brant said that’s what this program is all about.
“I’d sooner spend my time educating and preventing accidents from happening, rather than responding to them,” he said.
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