Monday, May 9, 2016

Learning at a mock car crash demonstration

In the media we often report on crashes, including fatalities. In the fire service, we often see and help at crashes that people are injured or killed. Some are accidental, including weather-related accidents. Some are caused by distracted driving and some are DUI-related crashes.

Before the prom season starts, high school students witness a mock-car crash demonstration through a program that involves a rehearsed crash scene with theater actors, high school students and emergency responders that serve that community.

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar, Daily Local News
First-responders from the Lionville Fire Company and Uwchlan Ambulance assist at the mock car crash held at the Downingtown East High School in Uwchlan Township, Chester County. 
Main Line Health said in a news release that the mock-car crash program helps “educate young drivers in our region about the extreme danger of distracted and impaired driving.” It received a $45,000 grant from the State Farm Insurance Company to provide the program through its 10-year long partnership.

“This grant will help deliver an impactful experience that we hope will encourage healthy habits and decision making for teen drivers,” Main Line Health said, “ultimately preventing avoidable tragedies from taking place.”

Automobile crashes continue to be the leading cause of death among teenagers.
“Each mock crash brings the scene to life by using preps and help of actors, emergency medical services, police and fire companies, which vividly demonstrate the possible negative outcomes of not making a smart choice,” Main Line Health System said.

My high school in Delaware County held a similar demonstration with a wrecked car, victims and a drunk driver who was arrested. My classmates and I watched in silence as the firefighters stabilized the vehicle. When the firefighters determined that the victims were entrapped, the firefighters used the Jaws of Life to remove the vehicle doors.

At the same time, the paramedics checked on the patient that lied lifelessly on the hood of the car. We saw fake blood on the student actor and the vehicle. We watched the EMTs put a cervical collar on another passenger.

The police officer put handcuffs on the driver after he failed a field sobriety test. What we saw then is similar to what the media often reports during alleged DUI arrests – police said the driver was unable to stand on their own, had slurred speech, deemed incoherent and the officer detected an odor of an alcoholic beverage on the driver’s breath. Sometimes witnesses, including 911 callers, said the alleged drunk driver drove erratically, unable to stay in the traffic lane.

The mock car crash accomplishes several purposes including practice for first-responders. Paramedics and EMTs practice checking on the occupants in a scenario that could be a realistic way of how they would find the patients entrapped. Firefighters practice stabilizing a vehicle, checking for on-scene hazards and using hydraulic tools to gain access to the patients in the vehicle.

Photo by Ginger Rae Dunbar, Daily Local News 

Lionville Fire Company firefighters remove the roof from one of the vehicles involved in the mock car crash demonstration held at Downingtown East High School in Uwchlan Township, Chester County.
The mock crash also aims at bringing the message home to the students, who are current and prospective drivers.

Some of the mock car crash programs in Chester County that I have reported on included an actress playing the mother of one of the victims. The juniors and seniors watched the police officers who held back the mother who cried as she approached the scene. She screamed in agony when they informed her that her child had died in the depicted scenario. As we watched, I noticed that many of the students looked away at that point.

Some of the on-lookers seemed mesmerized by it, unable to look away. The newspaper photographers look at the crowd to capture their reactions to what they witness, a mock crash that could become a reality without a moment’s notice.

Every 51 minutes someone in the U.S. dies from a drunken driving crash, according the national statistic.

In most of the homicide DUIs I have reported on, the driver had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of triple the .08 legal limit in Pennsylvania. In one fatal DUI crash I reported on, the underage driver had a BAC of half of the legal limit.

As a journalist, I hear families talk about the ripple effect of how someone’s choice to drive impaired takes away so much from them because that destructive decision cost their loved one their life. I quote in articles how families relive that night when they explain what happened and how DUI crashes are preventable. Some family members and friends have described it as a life stolen.

I recently reported on a contest in which seniors from the Downingtown Area School District created slogans to show how impaired driving ruins lives and to encourage safe choices to prevent impaired driving, especially during prom night.

The three winning slogans from the district’s three high schools included: “drunk drivers lead to stolen lives; drunk driving wrecks more than just cars, it wrecks lives; there won’t be any superheroes to save you from a crash. Be your own hero and don’t drink and drive.”

As I journalist, I thought wow, this 18-year-olds understand it. They also comprehend it the hard way because they lost a classmate last year to a drunk driver. I also reported on that. At the time I had been a volunteer firefighter for about six months. As both a journalist and a volunteer firefighter, I can only hope and wish that such tragedies don’t happen. As a firefighter, I thought, this is why we train. So we can respond to help.

My fire company is participating in a vehicle rescue training course. The program, designed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, is used throughout the Commonwealth. It has three sections – awareness, operations and technician – which are 16 hours each. In this course, we are learning how to stabilize vehicles, how to use hand tools such as a Halligan bar and an axe to open doors, and how to use the hydraulic cutters and hydraulic spreaders to remove the doors and roof when necessary.

There are systemic ways in firefighting to stabilize a vehicle and to access the patients depending on how the vehicle is placed, such as a vehicle on all four tires, on its side, on its roof and on top of another vehicle.

We have a lot of senior members in the program who are taking this course as a refresher. In addition to learning from our instructor to mitigate the various accidents, we can learn from the senior members’ experiences.


  1. I am 100% for the holding of those mock DUI crashes at the schools. These kids have so much going against them. They are completely caught up with their mobile devices and they have to navigate the roadways with more distracted drivers than ever. The crash scene helps to put consequences to driving while drunk, distracted, or under the influence of any drugs.

  2. I think this type of event has a huge positive impact on the people who attend. I went to one in my senior year and it scared the life out of me. I was terrified to not only drink and drive, but to get in any car with someone who had a drink. Thanks for sharing this.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds

  3. As a father of three teenagers who loved to drive with friends, I’m definitely in favor of demonstrations like this. Fortunately, our community fire department does this every year for our town high school. I still worry, of course, but a whole lost less than I would if there were no such demonstrations. I just hope they are paying attention!

    Joshua Duncan @ Focus Insurance Atlanta