Mock accident triggers real reactions

BLUE EARTH – As Winnebago fire chief, Jesse Haugh appreciates the mock accident he went through Thursday in the Blue Earth Area High School parking lot, but as a father, it was tough.

“That’s why we wanted to do it, keep the kids safe and get them to think about (drinking and texting while driving),” Haugh said. “This is a fireperson’s and ambulance person’s worst nightmare: coming up on kids.”

Especially when it’s your own.

Haugh’s son, Christian, a senior at Blue Earth Area, was one of the “victims” in the two-vehicle crash.

Coming to the “scene” as a first responder, Haugh was told his son had been “ejected” from one of the vehicles and “died” on impact. He rushed to Christian’s side, pulled back the blanket covering Christian’s dead body and hurled away a piece of metal that had been “embedded” in his son’s neck.

Officers pulled him away, and Haugh later watched his son, in a body bag, being loaded into a hearse.

“It’s one of the biggest fears as fire chief, to go out and find one of the crews’ kids,” said Haugh, who admitted he was wearing sunglasses to hide the fact he’d been crying.

It’s something they face on every call-out.

“When we go home, we think about our own families,” Haugh said.

That’s the point the law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, ambulance personnel and funeral home directors hope the hundreds of area high school students who attended understand.

It made a quick impact, according to Principal Rich Schneider.

“I’ve received very positive comments from students,” he said immediately afterwards.

“What made it meaningful is our students who were involved and our emergency responders,” he added. “Everybody was somebody they knew.”

It also made an impression on the kids who took part. Members of the community service class played the nine crash victims – including the three fatalities – and another group of kids who arrived just after the “accident” and called 911.

“It hit home when Jesse went over to Christian,” said Larissa Hatfield, a senior at Blue Earth Area who was one of the kids in the second group. “It was rough to watch that. Even though it wasn’t real, it felt really real.”

“Just seeing every one of your friends in a real situation made it hit home,” said Kristine Brown, a senior who was part of the second group.

Two of their classmates playing “victims” felt the same.

“There was one point where I was shaking,” said Ashton Hendricksen. “It was almost like a real accident.”

“Once I saw the people from the other car crying, I was crying,” said Bekah Sheldahl. “It was a real-time thing. I was shaking until they put me in the ambulance.”

Haugh is glad it’s over.

“It was a complete group effort,” he said. “People behind the planning pulled it off and I hope the kids heed this.”