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Putting the brakes on drinking and driving

Emergency personnel from the Perham fire, police and EMS departments were on the scene of a mock crash outside of Perham High School last Thursday, along with a member of the Minnesota State Patrol and a Life Flight helicopter out of Fargo, N.D. Several students volunteered to play ‘victims’ of the crash, while their peers looked on. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

The blood and injuries were fake, but almost everything else was real at the mock crash at Perham High School last week.

Firefighters used the Jaws of Life and a cutter to get in to one of the damaged cars. Two student victims acted as through they’d been thrown from their car, since they hadn’t been wearing seatbelts. One student was taken away in a Life Flight helicopter while the other was placed in a body bag and loaded in to a hearse.

The rest of the student body watched the frightening scene, getting a true-to-life glimpse into the dangers of drinking and driving.

It was an effort put on by Perham’s emergency response departments, along with Sgt. Jesse Grabow from the Minnesota State Patrol, in the school’s back parking lot. It was timed out to remind students to drive safely at Saturday’s prom, and in the future.

Vance Bachmann, training chief for the Perham Fire Department, said he and Barb Felt from Perham EMS started planning for the mock crash in January in order to coordinate with all of the groups involved.

“I don’t want to show up at their accident,” said Bachmann of why he takes part in the crash.

The event provides a valuable joint training opportunity for the squads.

Bachmann said some students commented on how slow the rescue seemed to go. He said the rescue was conducted at a slower pace than it would be in a real-life situation, but it does take time.

“An accident occurs and BAM – the clock starts,” said Perham Police Officer Elliot Stoll. “This is the reality of what it is.”

In a real accident, it might be three to five minutes before the fire department arrives on the scene, Bachmann said. Depending on the weather, that wait could be disastrous for accident victims.

In the mock crash, the critically injured victim who was thrown from the car was unconscious. The other vehicle’s windows and windshield were broken, providing little protection against the elements. Bachmann posed a question for students to ponder: What if it had been 20 degrees below zero?

“People die.” That’s the reality of accidents, Grabow told students in an assembly after the demonstration was over. “Do what you can to prevent them.”

“Nobody plans on getting in a crash, but there’s a reason why it happens,” Grabow said. “What it usually comes down to is one or more reasons: speed, not paying attention, drinking and driving. That’s just it.”

In 2012, eight people died in car accidents in Otter Tail County, according to Minnesota Department of Public Safety reports. Of those people, seven were not wearing a seatbelt and five were in an alcohol-related crash.

On average, 400 people die on Minnesota’s roads each year, Grabow told the students.

He challenged students to make smart choices every time they drive or are a passenger in a vehicle, saying, “You can save a life… start with yourself.”