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High School Emergency Response Simulation Mimics Real Life

It was a cooperative effort between first responders in Britt, Iowa, and the community, including the local funeral homes for use of a casket to help emphasize how quickly life-changing events can happen.

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(TNS) - It was an eye-opening lesson in real-life emergency response last week for West Hancock students in grades nine through 12, a mock scenario made a severe car accident appear genuine.

After students gathered to watch, "This is a drill, this is only a drill" blared from loudspeakers before a parade of sirens approached two severely damaged cars containing occupants involved in a T-bone crash. In a prom-night car accident scenario, Darin Eckels and Darcy Eisenman of Britt portrayed a father and mother, along with about a half dozen West Hancock student council seniors who were also part of a large cast for the simulation.

First to arrive on the accident scene were Sgt. Jordan Williams and Police Chief Tyler Harmon of the Britt Police Department , followed by Fire Chief Jon Swenson of the Britt Fire Department and a large emergency response crew. The Kanawha police and fire departments assisted at the scene.

"We try to do it every five to six years, as a whole new group of students have come into the school," West Hancock Ambulance Service Paramedic Jennifer Vaske said. "We've been doing this all 15 years (that) I've been a paramedic here."

Calling it a cooperative effort in emergency response by Britt and surrounding communities, Vaske thanked the Flower Cart in Britt for floral arrangements and Ewing Funeral Homes for use of a casket that helped emphasize how quickly and unexpectedly life-changing circumstances can occur.

Two other partners in the emergency response exercise were Hancock County Emergency Response and the West Hancock Ambulance Service.

"I'm helping with our new communications today," said Hancock and Winnebago County Emergency Response Coordinator Andy Buffington, standing at the back of an open emergency response truck lined with hand-held radios. "Now law enforcement, EMS, and fire and rescue can just stay on their own channels. We can make one super channel out of those, and they can all hear everyone else."

Buffington said the new digital functionality has been a big improvement over prior means of patching calls between responders at the dispatch center. He estimated the system has been in place for at least three years. The radio upgrades preceded the county's new communications tower near Duncan that has eliminated areas of communication drop outs near Britt and Garner.

Buffington noted that a similar exercise was held at Forest City High School last year, and his departments have been involved in a number of accident scenarios in Britt and Garner through the years. He added that a similar event is planned at North Iowa High School in Buffalo Center later this spring.

"For us, it's also just about helping everyone and allowing the responders to do what they need to do to have a good demonstration," Buffington said.

The Iowa State Patrol participated with a dramatization and potential lifesaving information for students on ways to avoid distracted driving, especially in an age of smart phones and other technologies. The danger of drinking and driving also was discussed. During the accident scenario, Britt police officers asked a West Hancock student playing the role of a driver who had been drinking to walk a straight line.

"Hopefully, it hits home a little bit and makes them think," West Hancock High School Principal Dan Peterson. "Even if it just makes a difference with one student, it makes it all worth it."

Peterson added that students hearing all the safety recommendations, and seeing firsthand what emergency personnel do in real scenarios, could help them be more proactive and more responsive in protecting themselves and others.

"We have a whole large group helping with this, which is great," Vaske said. "The various services donate their time and whatever they use for this. It's good practice for all of us as well. It's just about sending a message to students about risks, how to reduce them, and how to respond in certain situations."

While an open-casket scenario stemming from the events of the demonstration would have shock value, Vaske said they kept it closed. That casket alone sent a strong enough message, she added.

Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune . He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at


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