Last week Grade 9 students from Peace River and region had a PARTY in St. Isidore – the kind of party that gets literally crashed, and is attended by an ambulance, a fire truck, a helicopter, and a hearse.
PARTY, or Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth, is a program organized by a handful of local stakeholders that aims to educate students about the risks of drunk driving and other reckless behaviours behind the wheel.
The program started off Tuesday (May 14) with a realistic crash scene. Live actors, stumbling and screaming, in pain and covered in blood emerged from a wrecked car. A 911 call was made, drawing emergency services to the scene.
“We’re basically showing what actually happens at a scene if you were involved in a drunk driving situation” said Dave Leblanc, director of Northern Sunrise County protective services, and one of the key organizers of the event.
“We’re not here to be all nicey-nicey about it, it’s the real thing. People are going to die and people are going to be severely injured.”
Following the crash simulation, students attended hands-on informational sessions about traffic safety, addictions, emergency medical procedures, and trauma rehabilitation.
The various sessions educated students about traffic and substance abuse laws as well as the consequences of breaking them, the treatment and aftermath of severe injuries, and ways to recognize and prevent dangerous situations.
“You’re gonna have risks no matter what you do in life, but lets be smart about it and lets learn how to manage those risks so that you don’t get injured,” said Tammy Novak, health promotions facilitator from Alberta Health Services.
There’s a big focus on thinking ahead and having action plans in place, says Addiction Services counsellor Keltie Hatfield.
“Your parents would rather hear a phone call from you that you need a ride than get a call from the morgue saying your kid’s dead.”
Hatfield’s partner Joleen Smith added that the program’s highly visual approach makes the danger far more real than any information packet could.
“You can insert the characters as: this could be your friend, this could be your sister.”
It was certainly palpable for Cadotte Lake student Lacrissa, who had a cousin die due to an accident caused by drunk driving. “It’s real serious,” she said quietly, “real deadly serious.”
PARTY was specifically designed for Grade 9 students to catch youth prior to them driving independently, Novak says.
“At this age they’re invincible, right?” Smith said about the perceptions that the program aims to debunk, adding that the bush parties common in this area are a unique challenge for youth due to the difficulty and expense of getting a cab or alternate transportation.
The day ended with a high energy and emotional address by motivational speaker Earl Lambert. Lambert is a Dawson Creek native who has a personal reason for discouraging youth from reckless driving; his girlfriend was killed in a car accident in 2008.
Lambert spoke passionately about every human’s potential and worth, as well as the grief and pain brought on by the fact that he was driving when the vehicle was totalled. He encouraged the students to respect and take responsibility for the lives of their passengers.
“Each and every one of you deserves a successful, fulfilling, and happy life,” he said.
In her concluding remarks to the Record-Gazette, Novak was optimistic.
“I hope we’re making an impact, and you know, we always feel that if we save one life then it was worth it.”
PARTY is an annual program put together by a large number of individuals and groups, including: Alberta Health Services, Northern Sunrise County Protective Services, Peace Regional Victim Services, the Peace Regional RCMP, Alberta Sheriffs, the Berwyn Fire Department, the Office of Traffic Safety, Chapel of Memories, Black Swan Helicopters and several corporate sponsors.
Students from Glenmary High School, Holy Family High School, Little Buffalo School and Cadotte School went to PARTY on Tuesday, and Grade 9s from Grimshaw High School and Peace River High School attended on Wednesday, May 15.