SIMCOE - First-responders from Norfolk County pulled aside 60 high school students Thursday for a brief “CHAT” about their mortality.
The conversation involved the real-time enactment of a response to a collision where a teen was killed and another badly injured.
When students arrived at the east entrance of Norfolk General Hospital, a scrap Chevy Blazer with a busted ATV on its hood was waiting for them. The bloodied, mutilated body of the ATV rider lay motionless on the pavement while a young man in the passenger seat was comatose with severe injuries.
Emcee for the event was Norfolk paramedic and Courtland firefighter Randy Godelie. As he explained to students, the first order of business at a crash like this is to cover the deceased with a tarp. That’s what happens, he said, when emergency workers find someone who is VSA (vital signs absent).
“That’s basically what’s going to happen if this were you,” Godelie said. “You’re going to get covered up because it’s the living who get our attention.”
A Norfolk fire engine with sirens blaring arrived on the scene moments later. Half a dozen firefighters dismantled the Blazer with heavy-duty cutting equipment before extricating the victim.
Meanwhile, a crew from the Thompson-Mott Funeral Home in Waterford arrived to collect the body. As this was happening, Godelie and Const. Ed Sanchuk of the Norfolk OPP took turns narrating the process.
Thanks to cellphones and social media, Sanchuk said word of a nasty crash can spread quickly. Family and friends are often scarred for life after rushing to the scene to see first hand what has happened to a loved one.
“How do you think mom and dad are going to feel rolling up to a situation like this?” Sanchuk said. “It’s not very nice.”
Jill Thompson of the Thompson-Mott Funeral Home has collected bodies at accident scenes for the past 20 years. Physical trauma, she said, amounts to psychological trauma for the people who have to deal with it. The normal routine is to transport cadavers to Hamilton General Hospital for an autopsy.
“When you’re called out, you have a pit in your stomach,” Thompson said. “You do because you are never given a name. It could be a friend, a friend’s child or a family member. It’s nerve-racking. It’s tough to deal with.”
The enactment took about half an hour. For students, it was a sobering spectacle.
“It makes me not want to get into a car,” said Kassie Hodgson, a Grade 9 student at Delhi District Secondary School.
Chris Nevill, a Grade 12 student at DDSS, said the exercise demonstrates that bystanders have an obligation to prevent impaired driving before it happens.
“When you see someone drinking, tell them to give up their keys and help them call somebody they can trust,” he said.
CHAT stands for Community & Hospitals Against Trauma. Members of the local chapter include NGH, Norfolk EMS, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, Norfolk OPP, Norfolk Fire & Rescue and the Thompson-Mott Funeral Home. CHAT’s goal is to raise awareness and change attitudes toward the kinds of behaviour that produce traumatic injury in young people.
“This is not about preaching, but to make them stop and think,” said Brenda Richards, a teacher at Simcoe Composite School. “This isn’t about 'Thou shalt not’; we know they are going to. We just want them to stop and think. If we can help one kid to think twice about what they’re doing, it’s time well spent.”
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