Maryfield is normally a quiet little town, but on the morning of May 26, the silence was shattered as emergency vehicle sirens wailed across the area. They converged on a frightening scene, a blue car was rammed against a pole with a very still teenager on the hood, and more young people injured inside. A local woman was shouting about seeing the kids drinking, and a beer bottle lay close to the door.
They laid a blanket across the lifeless form on the front of the car, and carefully removed the injured from what was left of the once-proud Grand Prix. The driver was found to be "over the limit" and was taken into custody by members of the RCMP, while emergency medical services took the injured to the emergency room, and staff from the funeral home made entirely different arrangements for the other victim.
Thankfully none of this was real; it was all for show, and all for education. There were no drunk drivers, no injured teens with their lives shattered forever, and no dead young person on the way to the morgue. There were no charges laid, no frantic procedures enacted to save a life, and no terrible phone calls to anguished parents. But there was a sombre air of realism, and genuine shock as the witnesses and participants knew how easily it could have been the real thing.
This is the message of the PARTY program; it stands for "Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth." PARTY was developed in Ontario in 1986, and it allows groups of older students to witness a very realistic depiction of an accident scene, and then follow the path of an injured survivor as well as the intoxicated driver. It's an all-day session, and the students get to meet the real-life professionals who would care for them in a trauma situation.
In the morning sessions, groups of students rotated through three scenarios. At the town's fire station, they explored what happens when the injured are initially cared for by EMS services. Some of the teens tried on neck collars, while others were placed on the stretcher inside the ambulance, immobilized by restraints to their body and head. They listened quietly as EMS personnel shared their experiences of saving lives.
The emergency room was also set up for students. More details were given about the response to a motor vehicle collision, more simulations run for the now spellbound young people. There was more sobering discussion taking place at the police station. The "driver" of the crashed car was in handcuffs, mock bruises and cuts still evident on her face as she listened to the police officer discuss the criminal implications of drinking and driving.
After lunch, the event took on an even more chilling mood. Groups gathered at the United Church for a further three sessions. While some young people met an addictions counsellor from Sun Country Health, becoming more aware of the life-changing impact of drugs and alcohol, others listened to a presentation by a physiotherapist, learning about both brain and spinal injuries. But perhaps the most sombre presentation was in the main auditorium.
There, seated in the pews, the attendees listened to heart-wrenching presentations by staff from a funeral home and a local church minister. They told students about the embalming process, and stressed that although the event of the day was fictional, there is a corresponding reality that happens all too often. Young people do die, and parents who were planning a graduation suddenly find themselves planning a funeral instead. It's a loss they never get over, only coming to terms with it as best they can.
Later, a man in a wheelchair spoke candidly of his accident, talking about the changes to his life, and once more ramming home the deadly reality of injury with lifelong implications. Finally, school counsellors were available for students to talk with, just in case the emotions were too great for the young people.
But isn't that the point? Events like this are designed to invoke an emotional response, they are fully intended to give an "in your face" message to the most at-risk generation of our time. The message is very simple, do not drink and drive, do not take drugs and get behind the wheel of a car. Even if you do not drink or get high, don't get in the car with someone who is under the influence of either booze or drugs.
If it takes events like this to get the message across, then more power to such events, we need more of them, many more. While it takes individuals or groups of concerned citizens to arrange events like this, while it is great that schools do help, maybe it is time to add the PARTY program to the curriculum of every school across our province and across our nation, even across the planet.
How much is one life worth? How much potential did Saskatchewan lose with the preventable deaths of 66 young people killed in collisions in 2009? How many of the 878 young people injured on Saskatchewan's roads in that year will never be the same again?
No matter how realistic the PARTY program makes it, it is not as deadly as the real thing. There is nothing more shocking than the silence that surrounds an accident scene where people have died, you can feel the sombre serenity at the scene, the proximity of death is something you never forget. Is that too graphic? It needs to be.
As a society, we need to be more responsible. Most fatalities on the road are preventable, indeed all drink-related incidents are preventable, if people simply do not drink and drive. It's a decision on the part of the intoxicated driver, it's an awareness on the part of the passengers, it's a responsibility on the part of the hosts of the event, or the barkeeper behind the counter.
The PARTY program is giving young people a wake up call, in chilling detail with no punches pulled. But it is only giving some young people that awareness, it is not enough. Parents, teachers, ministers, educators of all descriptions and at every level need to get this message across to the next generation. Do not take the risk, stay sober when you drive, and stay alive.