Safety drill shows risks

PHILIPPI – At prom time, most high school students are thinking about gowns, flowers, dinner and a good time. Students in Barbour County are thinking of safety, however, and trying to make sure the good times don’t go too far.

Emergency personnel were on scene at Philip Barbour High School’s football field Thursday for a special prom safety drill, featuring a simulated accident with students playing the “victims.”

The 911 dispatch tones were broadcast over the loud speaker for first responders to respond to the scene of the drill. Firetrucks, ambulances, police and a Healthnet helicopter gathered at the football field while students from the senior and junior classes watched the scene unfold from the bleachers.

Lt. Matt Ryan, of the Belington Fire Department, organized the event with the cooperation of all local responding agencies.

“If all of this touches just one person and makes a difference, then it’s all worth it.” Ryan said. “That’s why I’m here – to make a difference.

Associate Principal Autumn Queen said some kids think they are invincible and nothing can happen to them.

“We just want them to realize that things like this really do happen in real life,” Queen said. “The year that I graduated, we had two kids that summer to lose their lives as a result of auto accidents.”

Sophomore Michaela Ferguson, student council’s parliamentarian, played one of the “victims.”

“It was definitely a wake up call for what could actually happen,” Ferguson said. “With prom just days away, it really makes you think before you make a choice.”

Roger Harris, assistant chief of the Junior Fire Department, said the intent of Thursday’s drill was to address the issues of prom safety.

“We want to see a zero injury, zero fatality prom.” Harris said.

Suzannah Skidmore, of the Belington Emergency Squad, said, “It really is a wonderful event. We are happy to be here to demonstrate the severity of drinking and driving.”

Teen driver Morgan Stemler was “arrested” for her role in drinking and driving, while teacher Trista Dalton played the role of a mother who was led in to identify the body of the deceased, played by Nikki Shriver.

“Even though it was fake, it was still scary,” Stemler said.

“I think the kids took a lot to heart. I hope it makes them think – any time they are on the road, not just at prom time.” Dalton said. “For me as a parent, I can’t imagine having to actually go through that experience.”

After all the “victims” were removed from the wreckage, the students were led into the school, passing a casket bearing the picture of a teen “victim.”

Frank Figuroa, lead pilot from Healthnet 6, spoke to the assembled students, reminding them of the consequences of not only drinking and driving, but also texting and driving.

“You might think, ‘I’m young – nothing can touch me.'” Figuroa said. “When you look out and see your future, the sky’s the limit. In five seconds, it can all be gone. Don’t be a knucklehead.”

Sheriff Phil Ferguson told the students he wanted them to enjoy their prom, but to be safe.

“This is your warning.” Ferguson said. “Have a good time, but I want to be able to see you walk across that graduation stage in a month.”

He told the students if they find themselves in a situation where they should not be driving, he wants them to call him and he will give them a safe ride home.

“I would rather take you home safely than to have to pick you up from an accident,” Ferguson said.

Sophomore Bryce McGee said, “It really made me see what could happen and how one foolish mistake can change not only your life, but multiple others.”

Deputy Chief Ron Skidmore, of the Philippi Fire Department, said not only did the training show kids what could happen in the real world when you drink and drive, it also was good training for the departments to keep their skills sharp.

EMT Shayne Brown, from the Barbour County Emergency Squad, echoed those sentiments, saying it was good for all the departments to work together.

“The patient is number one,” he said. “We are all just working together for the common good of the patient.”

Agencies working together on the drill include the Belington, Junior and Philippi fire departments, the Belington Emergency Squad, the Barbour County Emergency Squad, the Belington Police Department, the Barbour County Sheriff’s Department, Healthnet 6, Talbott Funeral Home, Thorne’s Towing, Barbour County 911 dispatchers and the PBHS staff and student council.

Student council officers Karlie Smallwood, Michaela Ferguson, Morgan Stemler, Mike Mitchell, Raychel Fitzwater, Cori Carpenter, Lilly Busdeker and Nikki Shriver played “victims” in the demonstration.