News From The Woods - May 1, 2007


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published May 1, 2007

"The Last Dance - 2007"

On March 21st we presented another "Last Dance" program. This is the sixth presentation we have made. The first program, presented in 2002, was held at Cotter High School. In 2003 we did a program at Mountain Home High School, followed by Norfork High School in 2004. We returned to Mountain Home again in 2005. Due to the enormous turnout expected we staged this event in the Mountain Home Rodeo Arena. The stands were packed with kids and parents. Last year's Last Dance was staged in Yellville, and this year we held the presentation at the Flippin City Park.

You can read about the 2006 program HERE.

For those who are not regular readers (would they be "irregular?") The Last Dance is a dramatization designed to show exactly what happens when you drink and drive and are involved in a catastrophic automobile accident. The program is aimed squarely at teenagers, and nothing is held back. The scene portrays a staged prom night, drunk-driving crash that shows teenagers the consequences of drinking and driving. Hundreds of area students are present and watch each event with open mouths and teary eyes. The main participants are local high school students associated with the school drama class and emergency personnel from ambulance, fire departments, and law enforcement agencies. Many other local business and organizations also pitch in on this group effort.

The event coordinator and producer of these programs is Judy Fagan, DWI officer, Safety Education Specialist, and director of Operation CHOICES. It is her vision which created this program, and she does the major pre-production work getting the entire show set up and organized. It takes her several months to set up each event, as the coordination needed to stage such a program that includes several agencies and organizations can become a monumental task. This year's event in Flippin was certainly no different. The list of participants this year included:

Yellville-Summit and Flippin High School Administrations
Yellville-Summit Drama Club
Flippin High School S.A.D.D. (Students Against Drunk Driving) Club
"actors" from Flippin and Yellville-Summit schools plus several parents
Marion County Office of Emergency Services
Marion County Sheriff's Office
Arkansas State Police
Flippin Police Department
Flippin PD K-9 Unit
Bull Shoals Police Department
Flippin Fire Department
Yellville Fire Department
Summit Fire Department
North Arkansas Regional Medical Center
Baxter Regional Medical Center
Air-Evac Lifeteam
City of Flippin Parks Department
Cheever's Auto Service
Burns Funeral Home
KTLO Radio Station

And of course, Cedar Crest Studio. My job is to document the program and made a finished edited DVD for these and other high schools to utilize in their continuing education programs for safety and awareness. These videos have quite an impact on viewers, but there is nothing like the "reality" of being there. In essence, this is why we do repeat performances year after year at different locations. Another reason for a new program each year is because it is a great way for the emergency response teams to practice their craft without someone really dying in the process. I am told by many of the personnel that even though they know this is a "play", they still get pretty ramped up and caught up in the proceedings. Something they learn in the program might actually come in handy or even possibly save a life during the real thing.

The "stage" for this year's program was the Flippin City Park ball field. Three wrecked vehicles were donated and brought to the site two days before the scheduled event. At that time all the participants met to go over the script. Little details are ironed out here, and any questions or problematic areas are discussed, such as the landing area for the Air-Evac copter or which entrance would be used by the emergency vehicles. Everything is checked and double checked because even though this is a staged presentation, there are still many things that can go wrong when you have so many people rushing around amidst broken glass, twisted and torn metal, and heavy machinery. Special attention is afforded to the accident victims. It would be too easy for someone to get hurt when all these cars are being systematically disassembled in order for the emergency personnel to get to the victims and extract them from the wrecks without any REAL injury. Some of the kids who were in the wrecked cars confided in me after the event and said it was "almost TOO real". The noise and the close proximity of a pneumatic Jaws of Life chewing up a car door just inches away from their leg was enough to cause several actors to get a bit queasy. Some said they just closed their eyes and gritted their teeth during a typical extraction operation. I saw several students shedding real tears during such an operation.

The audience during these presentations are held spellbound. Sitting in chairs or bleachers and watching the events unfold does little to distill the drama in front of them. Many of these audience members are parents of children who are down in the arena covered in (fake) blood, and crying for help. It's hard to choke back tears even if it IS just a "play". Many of the folks I talk to after such a presentation tell me the most profound part of the experience for them was how long it seemed to take for the emergency personnel to arrive after the "accident". In this year's event, the first responder arrived on the scene three minutes and twenty two seconds after the 911 call. But when you are there and watching these kids staggering around, covered in blood, calling out to each other it seems like an eternity before anyone arrives.

For me, the most compelling emotional experience is how these responders jump in and get the work done, all the while coolly coordinating their actions with others around them. To see a team like this in heroic action is almost overwhelming. I have been taught as a professional to not get personally involved with the subject(s), but to concentrate on getting the shot on camera. But I have to tell you that more than once I had to brush away tears because I got caught up in the human drama. This says volumes for the kids acting abilities as well as the real world attitudes of the emergency personnel. Even though every single one of the responders involved in this program were fully aware this was just a staged event, they acted as if it was a real emergency. When we found out that a real emergency had occurred which prevented the AirEvac Lifeteam from participating, they just shifted gears and started loading up kids in the available ambulances. Not a second was lost in the transition.

For a Windows Media Clip of this years program click HERE.

After the ambulances had all left, and the hearses were driving off with the "dead", a rousing cheer and applause from a standing ovation signified just how much impact this play had on all present. As a final statement, all the participants lined up behind the student players, and a song interspersed with pre-recorded personal comments by the kids played through the PA system. At the end, Ms. Fagan stepped forth and as her own comments played she turned around and blew kisses towards the cast and crew. It was the end of a very long day (and previous two months) for her, and yet she seemed so full of energy. It was then that I realized why she does this. She does it for the same reason I and many others offer our services year after year. Because we feel if just ONE PERSON is saved from death by a drunk driver it would all have been worth it. And so we do it every year.

I can't wait for next year!

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