After carefully donning a heavy and cumbersome HAZMAT suit, Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School student Mitchell Pellarin came into contact with a dangerous chemical, forcing him to wade through what amounted to a human car wash.
It was an eye-opening experience, Pellarin said of the exercise, part of a complicated scenario the students participated in Tuesday as part of Emergency Preparedness Week.
“You get to see what they have to go through – how serious it is,” Pellarin said. “It’s amazing all the stuff they have to take so seriously. It really makes you respect what they do because every little thing they do with so much care. You don’t realize how much focus they have to have because what they do can be really dangerous.”
Tuesday’s event was organized to highlight the importance of personal emergency preparedness, said Orillia Assistant Fire Chief Brent Thomas, noting students were encouraged to, with their families, make emergency plans and compile a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit.
Students also learned how emergency services prepare for and respond to large-scale emergencies. With the co-operation of Fogarty’s neighbour, Kubota Materials Canada, whose land includes almost 10 wooded acres, students got a first-hand look at what it was like to get lost in a forest.
“They learned how to search for people using line searches and grid searches,” said Thomas. “Then, we had one of the kids hide and we sent out dogs to find him.”
Back at the Orillia Fire Department station on Commerce Road, students learned about chemical spills, decontamination, how a first responder reacts, how to identify hazardous chemicals, how to deal with a crisis and what it’s like to be a victim.
“Most of the students are in Grade 11 or Grade 12 and are part of the outdoor education or the lifeguard program,” said Thomas. “About 40% of them are interested in a career in emergency services, so this provides a bit of a glimpse into that.”
Carolyn Healy, Patrick Fogarty’s principal, said the event was “awesome for students.” She said she was impressed how emergency services personnel developed the storyline for the scenario and involved the students at multiple levels and in a variety of ways.
“It started off with videos in the drama room, then they went out to the woods for the scenario, then here to the fire hall for this component and then we’ll head back to the school to de-brief and pizza,” she said.
“For the kids, it’s about education, but it’s also about networking,” said Healy. “Now these kids see a face in the community and they have created a connection. If they’re looking at this as a career, they have contacts now. It’s a great idea.”
“This was huge and gave me a whole new respect for the job they do,” he said. “Some people like to make prank 911 calls. When you see what they do and how important it is, you kind of realize how frustrating it must be for these guys.”
As someone who hopes to pursue a career in medicine, Tuesday’s exercise was also enlightening.
“It helps me to understand a little bit better how scared a person might be,” Pellarin said, referring to the person “lost” in the woods. “That’s the same fear as a person waiting for surgery. It’s important to understand that and put yourself in their shoes. It really makes you think.”
This was the first time this educational event was held in Orillia. It was a partnership between Emergency Management Simcoe County and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB), in collaboration with the Orillia Fire Department, Ontario Provincial Police and County of Simcoe Paramedic Services.