An audience of hundreds of Forest City High School students had a birds-eye hillside view of what seemed like a real-life car accident emergency response on May 5, although it was a mock scenario.
Forest City Paramedic Joe Klukow organized the educational event along with school and law enforcement officials and others. He noted that behind the high school was a good venue because they wanted to start an important lifesaving conversation with teen drivers.
“The purpose was to bring awareness of distracted driving of all kinds,” said Klukow, adding that negative impacts of excessive speed, not wearing seat belts, and drinking alcohol or texting/talking on cell phones while driving were addressed. “We had the support of North Central Sales and Service, which donated two wrecked vehicles. North Central brought them in, helped stage the accident, and cleared them out.”
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In addition to Forest City Paramedics and Ambulance Service volunteers, the Forest City Police Department, Forest City Fire and Rescue, Winnebago County Sheriff's Department, Iowa State Patrol, Schott Funeral Home, and MercyOne's Life Flight were all on the scene.
“They all got a good perspective of it,” said Klukow of the onlookers. “We got the helicopter close enough that they could all feel it coming in. It started with myself and the police department and we got the fire department involved. Between us, we wanted to something to be proactive in the community. I had done something similar in Buffalo Center before and there has also been lots of interest in this from the (North Iowa) schools.”
Forest City Community School District Darwin Lehmann said all the stakeholders deserve credit for the successful mock event, including FCHS Principal Ken Baker who was the lead school contact. He said it was open to all students in grades 9-12 who wished to observe and participate in the educational experience. It was not mandatory as parents could request to have their kids opt out of it, but few did.
“They wanted to make it kind of a theater setting, so everyone could see,” said Lehmann, noting that the school has a video of the event.
Six students from the FCHS drama department agreed to portray accident victims and a volunteer from the crowd served as a citizen calling 911.
Klukow, who has been a Forest City paramedic for about five years, also served as a public address announcer to help explain in more detail what was occurring during the exercise. He said a goal is to do it again in about three years when there will be another receptive, largely student audience.
Klukow and Iowa State Patrolman Keith Duenow of the Mason City Post worked with students in two group sessions after the accident scenario was completed. The sessions lasted between 20-30 minutes. They rotated between follow-up on the staged accident scene and a class setting. Topics such psychological and family impacts, drunk driving accidents, and the extent of accident damage on Iowa roadways were discussed. It included a question and accident period.
Students watched video on districted driving and details of a fatal head-on collision near Algona. Klukow said they heard about the number of ambulance calls specifically related to speeding and districted driving, which are often fatal.
“Some of them had already lost classmates, friends, or family members,” Klukow said. “It kind of hit home for a lot of them. With so many cell phone calls and so much texting and Snapchat, if this hits any kids to not respond to them while driving, it was worth it. Otherwise, they could hit a car or blow a stop sign. We tried to really push the dangers of distraction.”
A highlight of the group session near the accident scene was what Klukow called a “seat-belt convincer.” Students were strapped before it simulated head-on vehicle collisions at three, five, and 10 miles per hour, so they could feel the impacts.
“I’ve gotten a lot of good comments from the kids out in the public,” Klukow said. “It was a lot of positive comments over the weekend. With something like this, every department kind of eats its own expenses.”
Because of the public benefit, Klukow said Forest City’s Ambulance Service, Fire Department, and Police Department were very willing to concede additional fuel and equipment expenses, noting that many volunteers were simply donating their time. The ambulance service even fed the students pizza.
“For the ambulance service, it comes from donations and revenue from calls,” Klukow said. “So, we try to give back when we can. We don’t have a problem putting it back in education because we don’t like seeing a fatal accident. If we could go a whole year without one that would be a great thing.”
Klukow estimated Forest City Ambulance personnel are typically called to 2-5 fatal or serious-injury accidents annually.
“Our students and adults were the beneficiaries,” FCHS Principal Baker said. “It was moving how many people took time from their day, many of them volunteers, to put this on.”
Baker noted the value of it was learning ways to avert fatal interruptions when driving, maybe even things like reaching down to adjust the radio or trying to grab something and not just talking/texting. He said it was a pretty easy decision to proceed with the request to host the event, adding that the game plan was simply to let everyone see what the consequences of distracted driving can be.
Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at email@example.com.