A mock disaster at Green Valley Park Thursday morning had onlookers wondering what was going on.
The Payson Fire Department, along with other area first-response agencies, staged an accident scene in Green Valley Park at 9 a.m. Thursday, across from the Zane Grey cabin.
The mock accident was to give first responders in the Rim Country practical experience in how to handle such a situation.
Nearly two-dozen drama students from Payson High School and the Payson Center for Success participated in the simulation.
The scenario was that the driver of a silver Dodge Omni, who was under the influence of a controlled substance, lost control of the vehicle and smashed into three families at the park having a picnic.
Playing the part of an eyewitness, Payson High School student Melissa Shepard described the accident.
"The driver of the Omni seemed to lose control of the vehicle, and just came across the grass and smashed right into the families under the ramada," Shepard said.
"There's people hurt everywhere," she said.
In the vehicle were a teenage male driver and two teenage female passengers.
Emergency personnel had to use the jaws-of-life in a realistic extrication to get the three out of the car.
The driver was airlifted to Payson Regional Medical Center.
In a real accident of this magnitude, the driver would have been taken to a Valley hospital, Tom Fife with the Payson Fire Department said.
Fife said he felt the mock disaster was a success.
"It gives us a chance to better prepare ourselves for situations like this," he said.
As the population of Payson grows, the possibility of something like the staged accident becomes greater, Fife said.
"We also want to improve how we get information out to the public," Fife said.
He said staff limitations sometimes create issues with disseminating accurate information to the public, and mock disasters like the one Thursday morning help pinpoint areas in need of attention.
One of those areas of attention happened as the mock disaster was taking place.
Diamond Star Fire Department had set up a triage area to treat the victims of the mock disaster.
Police had set up perimeters and emergency response teams were busy treating people and two victims of the simulated accident escaped notice.
Shepard and fellow Payson High School student Sabrina Brahn were told to try and leave the scene to see how observant emergency responders were.
Brahn and Shepard walked away from the triage area and nearly managed to wander out of the park before a Payson police officer spotted them and brought them back to the scene.
"It's typical at accident scenes that victims are disoriented and unaware of the extent of their injuries and will often get up and leave the scene," Cory Houghton, marketing director for the Payson Regional Medical Center said.
"It's actually remarkable that police caught them before they were able to get away."
Houghton said she thought Thursday's mock disaster was an overall success.
There were 14 victims portrayed in Thursday's simulated disaster, with injuries ranging from substance abuse and minor abrasions, to massive head trauma, and even a 75-year-old man suffering a heart attack.
Spokespersons for emergency services said response to the simulated disaster went well.
"I think response was good," Bob Evenson, firefighter with the Diamond Star Fire Department said. "We don't see many situations like this in the Rim Country."
"We'll hopefully hold more of these kind of practices in the future, the more practice we get, the better we will be able to respond if anything like this happens," Evenson said.
"We wanted to do this to test our readiness for such a disaster, and I think we came through very well," Houghton said.
Tom Barker, Battalion Chief with the Payson Fire Department, also said the simulation was a success.
He said he didn't see any areas of concern, and that response in general was successful.
"We always need to fine tune our machine," Barker said. "But we had the situation taken care of and everyone transported within about an hour, and that was very good."