Sirens echoed throughout the halls of North Point High School on Thursday, May 1, as students gathered to the scene of a staged traffic accident in their school parking lot. Meanwhile, the Grim Reaper invaded classrooms at Thomas Stone High School claiming a student every 15 minutes, transforming them into the “living dead.”
The two-day Every 15 Minutes program places students in realistic situations to remind them that every 15 minutes someone is killed or seriously injured in an alcohol-related incident. The event was planned and sponsored by the Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department (WVFD) at North Point and Thomas Stone high schools on May 1 and 2. Due to a rain delay, Thomas Stone was unable to participate in the mock accident portion of the program.
The Grim Reaper removed one student from a classroom every 15 minutes at both North Point and Stone. The 25 preselected students from each school were pulled from the classroom and a school resource officer (SRO) then read an obituary for each of the “living dead” that was prepared by the student’s parent. The students were dressed and made-up to represent the “living dead.” When they returned to their classrooms, they did not speak to other students for the remainder of the day. The “living dead” attempted to bring to life the lasting effects that drinking or texting while driving can have not only on the student’s life, but on other people’s lives as well.
North Point students witnessed first-hand how a traffic accident would play out. During the simulated accident, the “living dead” students stood silently with tombstones in hand. The WVFD arrived on the scene to handle fatalities and to remove “injured” students from the wreckages with jaws-of-life tools. Students watched a police officer administer a field sobriety test to a fellow student who had been “drinking,” causing the accident. Paige Wood, a North Point senior, was a student fatally wounded in the simulation. “It’s so realistic. I really think it impacts everybody that sees it, whether you’re involved or not,” Wood said.
The experience for students continued beyond the simulated accident. The “drunk driver” was escorted to the Charles County Sheriff’s Office and was processed as if she were a real offender. Kristen Kriegh, a junior at North Point, played the role of the drunk driver. “It’s really an eye opener. I definitely will never do this in real life,” Kriegh said after the mock accident. The participants also held a mock trial to prosecute the “drunk driver.”
After school, the students who participated in the program were taken to Camp Merrick in Nanjemoy for an overnight retreat. During the retreat, students did not use cell phones or other electronic devices and were separated from family and friends, further demonstrating the consequences of drinking or texting while driving. Support staff including school counselors, school staff and members of the WVFD accompanied the students on the retreat.
During the retreat, the students worked on a presentation for the following day when they were “brought back to life.” The assembly gave students the opportunity to reflect on the events that occurred over the two-day program and to understand the gravity of dangerous decisions and how it can lead to irreversible consequences.
Guy Yesse, event coordinator and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) lieutenant with the WVFD said that the goal of the program is to communicate effectively with every high school junior and senior the dangers of drinking or texting while operating a vehicle. According to Yesse, the highlight of this year’s program was seeing 52 students from two different high schools come together at Camp Merrick. “It doesn’t matter what school you go to, it affects all of us,” Yesse said.
This is third year that the Waldorf Volunteer Fire Department has sponsored the Every 15 Minutes program with Charles County Public Schools. In past years, Thomas Stone and Westlake high schools have participated in the event, and many students later said they changed their driving habits as a result, particularly when it came to texting and driving.
The event also includes the participation of the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, other county fire and rescue departments, staff at North Point and Stone, the College of Southern Maryland, Maryland State Police Aviation Unit, community officials, Charles County Courthouse officials and a wide cross section of the Charles County community at-large.