They are the glorified jobs you see endlessly profiled on cop and drama shows. The first responders to a scene faced with the gruesome task of documenting a life shattering tragedy into evidence bags. It’s one thing to watch these television portraits while unwinding at the end of a long work day. It’s quite another to live the reality. But that’s something Sergeant Tim Burrows and Constable Hugh Smith do everyday. Overseeing media communications, they are responsible for attending any major collision that Traffic Service is involved in. Fatalities are not uncommon. Talk about a tough job.
“The ones we are on are usually as people would say, spectacular,” says Smith. “It’s the carnage involved, how violent the collision really is. What gets to the officers when we’re investigating is, this was so preventable. Why are we here at 3 in the morning, and someone has passed away? Then you find it was due to either some kind of impairment, or distracted driving. By the time they look up, it’s all over for somebody.”
Smith and Burrows have, collectively, 44 years experience, and have banned the word “accident” from their nomenclature, preferring terms like “incident” or “collision”. So here’s what they can definitively say: every collision is both life altering (if not life threatening) and preventable, and anyone who sees what they do will never be the same.
Enter Sunnybrook’s P.A.R.T.Y program. Short for “Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth”, it’s the medical version of scared straight. Twice a week, a group of high school students come close to stepping in the shoes of Smith, Burrows and other first responders. They view graphic videos of real incidents, tour the trauma and critical care units, and meet with patients whose lives have been irreparably altered as a result of poor decisions-like drinking or driving or not wearing a seatbelt. In short, these teens smash into the worst-case scenario head on.
P.A.R.T.Y. is a particular source of pride for Sunnybrook. Born here, it’s now been adopted and copied locally and internationally. And now, important 10-year data on the program finally quantifies what those involved have long-suspected: it really works. The new study, published in the Journal of Trauma, finds teens who attended P.A.R.T.Y. had fewer injuries, driving offenses and collisions, not to mention a reduction in serious and catastrophic injuries.
Burrows and I met last week for a drive around the west end of the city. He told me the biggest challenge with any safety measure is changing behavior, something P.A.R.T.Y. does with a bang. “If you can start that at the youth, that’s where you’re going to get the win because it keeps on growing.” He also defends the graphic nature of the program. Unlike the shows and video games kids are bombarded with, P.A.R.T.Y. is clear in its message that real life has no reset button.
Smith agrees, saying that each student will leave enriched in some way from the P.A.R.T.Y. experience. “Maybe not the whole program, but they’re going to take something that relates to them. Hopefully that little message, as we say, spreads to 2 friends and so on.”
Here’s to that. Learn more about the P.A.R.T.Y. Program