Last week, a program out of the Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department received national recognition for making Carroll's roads a little bit safer for some of its newest drivers.
On April 23, Amy Carney traveled to San Antonio, Texas to accept the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Lifesavers Award for Public Service.
Carney, a paramedic and the EMS Captain with the Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department, and her team are behind Every 15 Minutes, a program that makes the consequences of traffic accidents real for students in order to encourage them to make safer decisions on the road.
"We do this program around the times that there is a higher probability of teens drinking (Prom, homecoming, senior week) and thankfully, looking at the statistics, the message seems to be spreading," she said.
The Times caught up with Carney to talk about how traffic safety has changed in the years since the program began and her team's goals for the future.
Q: Is it right that you traveled to Texas to accept this? What was that like?
A: Yes, to San Antonio. It was flattering and very overwhelming. There are so many people who work hard to make the roads safe. The award was presented during a luncheon at the annual Lifesavers Conference. I believe they said there was over 2,500 people in attendance at the conference.
Q: Did you meet others working in the area of traffic safety?
A: Yes, I made a lot of new contacts in all aspects of traffic safety. It was wonderful for networking.
Q: You have mentioned that nothing would be possible without the efforts of the whole team you work with. Can you talk a little about the program you put on together for those that might not be familiar?
A: The program is called Every 15 Minutes. It is a realistic experience without the real consequences. Every year, approximately 20 amazing volunteers (some fire department volunteers, some not) plan and execute this two-day program with the help of local fire departments, Carroll County Sheriff's Office, Carroll County State's Attorney's Office, Circuit Court Judges, Carroll Hospital Center and several local businesses.
It consists of four parts: the Grim Reaper claiming his victims, a mock car crash, an overnight retreat for the Grim Reaper victims (and a few hour retreats for their parents) and a morning assembly set up like a memorial service. The students hear from several speakers about their real life experiences.
Q: What are some of the most successful results of the program?
A: This can be hard to tell but in the '90s someone died from an alcohol-related crash every 15 minutes (hence the name). Currently we sit about one every 32 minutes. The numbers are getting better, but we still have a long way to go.
Every once in a while, we will have students [who attended] the program volunteer later in life and tell us how the program has affected them and the choices they have made. We even had one student write her college thesis on the program. It is a good feeling that we are able to help even if only a small group.
Q: What are some of the goals or continued work of the program that you are looking toward for the future?
A: We hope to continue the work in the current high schools we have been working with and also bringing the program to the remaining high schools in [Carroll County.]
Q: As first responders who go to the scenes of traffic accidents, does that make it more urgent for you to educate others on how important important this is?
A: It does. We see some people in the worst time of their lives. We have to keep our composure and assist these people in anyway we can, but we are also human so it does wear on us as we have families also. We seem to sometimes have that rough exterior and that stuff we see doesn't affect us, but that's only on the surface.
Having kids of my own is also what pushes me to continue doing this program. I want them and their friends to be safe and make good choices especially when it comes to them getting in a car with someone or behind the wheel when alcohol is involved.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to mention?
A: To be honest, the award may have my name on it but it would never have been possible without the team that works so hard beside me. They are the best group and are the true winners.
While the program is called Every 15 Minutes and we talk most about drunk driving, this program is more about making the right choices. Not taking that drink or text or doing drugs then driving. We aren't saying you can't drink, or other activities, we are just asking you to make the right choice and not do this things then get behind the wheel.