The theater is dark, the lights go down and they have little idea what they are in store for. 2000 students, of the age to start driving or just started driving. A few mobile phones are flickering whilst Snapchats are read, and whatsapps are contributed to… and then silence. The projection screen comes up with a short film where some teenagers get into a car and start driving. Statistically a lethal cocktail with inexperienced and confident young people. There’s an innocent distraction in the car and it ends up crashing. The scene shows the occupants unconscious with a little blood, but mainly steam from the engine and the music that had been playing in the car is now silenced. The darkness envelopes the car before a scream joins the atmospheric scene. You can feel the panic, and you can then see the blue lights of a police car approaching.
And then I walk on to the stage and take the audience through an event I was involved in. I tell the story of being first on the scene and trying to save the life of a young male driver who’d had a drink, and of seeing the body of a young girl in the passenger seat who was unfortunately beyond help. I continue taking the students with me, sharing my personal thoughts at the time, and opening up to the humanity we actually are inside, not just hard shelled emergency services. I walk off to a hesitant applause, as some feel it not respectful to clap after such an emotional story, but others feeling to applaud the honesty is worthy.
My bit is done as I hear the film re start for the fire fighter to turn up on the scene. The film stops and then a fire fighter, dressed in full rig, strolls on. And his story is told. We lose a few members of the audience at this stage, the story involves a car of young people who burned to death locally. He describes in haunting form, hearing the howling of the mother being restrained from coming through the barrier tape. It is too much for some, not because of the description of blood or burned bodies, because we don’t want to omit the squeamish student in the room, we want to get the message to everyone, so we keep most of the gore out, but we try to get to the soul of the student, to put them there, to make them believe that yes, that could have been them, and indeed some remember a very similar set up of circumstances that could so easily have led to the conclusion they are now witnessing.
Next it’s the paramedic in full uniform, the spot light on him as he tells his own personal story. A pause and waver in the tale, he’s hit a spot that has got to him. He looks embarrassed for a second, regains his composure and then travels through the rest of the scene with the listener. His patient dies, but he feels he could do no more. The phones are all off now. Social media could not be further from their minds as they absorb the information of reality. There is dead silence, and the total undisturbed attention of 2000 students looking at that 2 meter squared bit of stage could not be more impactive.
A Police family liaison invites the audience into his life for a bit. 70 times they have informed a person their most treasured loved one is dead. He sucks his breath in slowly at the door, and then lets it out in a sigh… then he knocks on that door praying no one answers. It opens and a huge man, fills the frame of the door. A man with a chiseled jaw, a man who has worked a hard life, and who looks directly at the officer from his white cap, down to his yellow jacket, and then directly in to his eye. He says two words… “Which one?”
That question echos off the walls and returns. Just beyond thinking about. We move on to the next speaker. There is shock. No one is expecting it, and some can’t quite believe it, but now comes on a woman who looks like anyone’s mother. She is holding a soft toy in her right hand. A white teddy in the shape of a puppy gripped so tightly, you can tell it’s the most precious thing she owns. She then tells how she was told of the death of her beautiful 21 year old son. His picture comes up on the wide screen behind her and he looks like a quarter of the audience. Young and handsome, a holiday snap with a look on his face like he knows that this fantastic day is just the start of a wonderful life to come. But it stopped when he got into a car with a show off. Tears start to roll down her face, “I had to see him” She says.
“I had to go to the mortuary and see his face, and to hold his hand”. She has streaming tears running down her face struggling through the words she wanted to share. She is right there again, living exactly the moment she lived when she did it for the first time. Her body is shaking with the grief. Why is she doing this to herself? Is it wise? Why have they let her do this? More students walk out, they can take no more. Their faces wet with tears, the emotion too much, they walk into the arms of councillors and staff waiting for them outside. And then the mother says, “I went home, I walked up stairs into my sons bedroom and laid in his bed. I hugged his pillow which still smelt of him. I could smell my lovely son, and I cried and cried. He was gone forever”
Learn2Live is a project and presentation that is national, but realises the importance of using local people from the area of the presentation so the audience can totally relate to the people and emergency services that work in their area. It is put together by wonderful people from the County Councils in a close relationship with the Fire Service, and uses Police and Paramedics to tell their very personal stories. There is clear guidance on how to avoid getting into dangerous positions, and is very much directed to not lecture students, as we know that doesn’t work, but to make them aware of the choices they have. That if they feel they are in danger in a car, it’s because they actually are in danger.
Talking heads videos were recorded of some of the speakers just in case they couldn’t make it to a venue and had no one to cover for them. They put these videos on YouTube, and I have a wobble moment in mine. (Search Learn2Live Harry). It’s because the mother of the girl who died in my story walked into the room when I was recording mine. It hit me a little. It attracted quite a few hits and I could see how social media could be so useful. No body listens to someone telling them to drive safely. You have to change the way they think, and I totally believe Learn2Live does that. Being asked by my Police Force whether I would consider starting a social media account I decided it was worth a go to try to get the message across. I begun a Twitter account nearly two years ago that now has nearly 10,000 followers. That can be very useful to get the message across.
There is a good chance, your teenagers school has been approached to supply students to watch the presentation which in Devon where I am tends to run from October for a couple of months, but it has also been moved across for the military world so there is more interest gaining. All I suggest, if you are interested to read this far, can you ask your sons or daughters schools and colleges whether they are supporting the Learn2Live initiative? It may just save their lives. The research shows the impact of the day stays with them, and it changes lives, and with luck, it’s saving lives too.
Police Sgt Harry Tangye
Twitter Learn2Live @Learn2Live2
Web Site – Learn2Live.org
Twitter of Harry Tangye @DC_ARVSgt
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