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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Demolition Derby at Salem High

Posted Wednesday, November 3, 2010, at 3:29 PM

When my fellow reporter, Niki de Soto, asked if I could swing by Salem High School the other day to shoot some photos, I was glad to do it. But, I'll admit, the event I was covering didn't sound too exciting.

Niki said the fire department was going to haul a wrecked car over to the school and do a presentation on the importance of safe driving. I had a "been there, done that" feeling. I have covered similar events before where students gather around a wrecked vehicle, hear an accident victim talk about their brush with death and the dos and don'ts of avoiding accidents, especially the "don't drink and drive" message. It's a presentation that can drag on causing a lot of student whispering and fidgeting by the time it's over.

But, when I arrived at the high school parking lot, I realized this event wasn't the "same old thing". For starters, the small Dodge pickup truck, which had been donated by Carpenters Metal Recycling in Viola, wasn't wrecked. It was just old and ready for a crusher.

Fire Chief Heath Everett was describing the plan for the afternoon. The students could watch as two of his firefighters, Nick Blanton and Sam Rosito wearing full protective gear, tore the truck apart to show how difficult it is to free passengers who are trapped inside a vehicle after a wreck.

The firefighters began by using the "jaws of life", an air compressor powered device which can get between two pieces of metal and spread them apart as the jaws are opened. They were able to quickly force open the vehicle doors, cut the hinges and throw the doors into the pickup bed.

Everett explained that removing doors helps responders get to people who are trapped. But, he added, a vehicle is often so mangled and crushed that, even with the doors off, victims can't be freed.

The next step involved cutting seat belts that may be holding victims in place.

"Of course, you all wear your seat belts all the time, don't you?" the Chief asked.

Then. the firefighters used a device the students loved. By pulling back a small, hand held spring thing and letting it go, the front and rear glass quietly shattered so it, too, could be knocked out and thrown into the back of the pick up.

Then, they grabbed an air powered cutter and began slicing through the two posts at the rear of the cab, which support the roof of the truck. Once the posts had been severed, the firefighters grabbed the front of the roof and folded it back into the pick up bed, turning the truck into a convertible, giving rescuers even better access to trapped victims.

That left one other common accident scene problem to tackle. In a front end collision, the engine compartment can push back into the passenger area, often causing the driver to be pinned to the seat by the steering wheel. But the responders showed how a hydraulic jack can be used to push the steering wheel to the side. The fire department's powerful "cutters" can also be used to cut off a section of steering wheel or remove driver side pedals that may also be holding a victim in.

The event showed there is nothing like a little demolition and destruction to get and keep a kid's attention. The students talked excitedly and laughed but paid close attention, as firefighters filled the pickup bed with doors, broken windows, and the roof.

As they watched, Chief Everett was explaining that Blanton and Rosito and other firefighters have spent a lot of time learning how to open up a smashed in vehicle to reach victims. He added Blanton is a body shop mechanic and Rosito a carpenter. Both have their own lives to lead and they do not enjoy being interrupted to save someone's life. In addition, the volunteers put themselves at risk every time they drive up to a scene where cars have crashed and people need help.

"Everything we do is dangerous," explained Everett. "When you're dealing with a mangled up car, that makes it even tougher. We do what you are seeing at top speed to try to reach injured people in minutes."

The destruction was a sneaky way of making a point. Students, certainly, do not want to be trapped inside as firefighters work madly to get them out so their injuries can be treated.

The Chief suggested the best way to avoid the shock and fear and trauma of a serious accident is to be alert and drive responsibly at all times, because inattentive, impaired and dangerous driving comes with serious consequences.

"They were impressed with the demolition," principal Wayne Guiltner told me. "They were talking about it all the rest of the day." But did they get the message behind the destruction? "I believe they did," answered Guiltner. "We've done safe driving programs before but this one seemed to grab everyone's attention."

The fire department demonstration was part of Red Ribbon Week, a week of activities which center on educating students in grades seven through twelve about the importance and benefits of a drug free lifestyle.

According to the principal, the demonstration emphasized the importance of "making good choices" in life.

It impressed me.

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I used to call this blog "Stranger In Town" but time goes by quickly. After a year in these parts, I realize people will still say, 'he's from off' but I now proudly claim I am a "Stranger No More"! After a lifetime in living in big cities, small town life has produced surprises, good and bad but, after more than a year, I love it (most of the time!). I promise to keep on writing about stuff that interests me and things I think of to complain about. I hope you will continue to check in occasionally to read and comment.