OLATHE, Kan. -- The arrival of an annual rite of passage also brings cause for concern.
On Thursday afternoon, students at OIathe West High School got a crash course on the potential of prom night danger. "Operation Prom Night," a realistic reminder of the worst case scenario, was built in the school's back parking lot for students to study.
There they sat: two clunker automobiles with their front ends smashed together, as firefighters and paramedics rushed to the aid of screaming people in peril.
It's a brutal reminder that prom night can also be a teenager's worst night.
Olathe Fire Department workers pooled their efforts with EMTs from Johnson County Med-Act to create a mock crash. It was a scripted smashup, designed to show the pain that can happen to teens who drive drunk on prom night.
Firefighters hacked away at the two old hunks of junk, one of which still had teenagers inside. Eleven members of the high school's drama club -- including three makeup techs -- portrayed students in a state of shock, reeling in disbelief from the pantomime accident they'd taken part in. Eight of those young actors wore fake blood and stunned looks on their faces, as they wailed in agony, as if their lives had flashed before their eyes.
A large crowd of their classmates looked on, many of whom used their cell phone cameras to record reminders of the trauma they saw.
"This is all your fault," one young actor, covered in blood, howled.
As Olathe fire and rescue workers whirled into action, they were joined, for the first time ever, by members of the high school's Fire Rangers program. That's a school-based organization that prepares teenagers for work in law enforcement and first response.
"It's a little chaotic for some," said Cody Scrivner, one of the two student firefighters.
Olathe West High School is still in its first year of existence, and many of OWHS's students were seeing this annual drill for the first time.
"Usually, after prom, there are a lot of people who go to after-parties, and they do have drinking. It's not good for them to be driving right afterwards," Scrivner said.
The message is loud and clear to the actors involved in this crash, during which some of the characters on this parking lot stage didn't make it out alive. Some students admitted they're sometimes pressured by their peers to drink and do drugs.
"The temptation is definitely there," said Peyton Falen, one of the group's actors.
Falen who, like Scrivner, is a sophomore at the high school, sat behind the wheel of one of the two automobiles, as firefighters used the Jaws of Life to rip the crinkled car to smithereens.
"I would never want to end up like this, so no drinking. Don't do drugs. Make sure you're safe on the way there. If you're going to participate in something illegal, make sure you have a ride home," Falen said.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving said car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers, and, according to the group's website, 25 percent of those wrecks involve a drunk driver.
One firefighter on the scene reminded reporters this isn't a new exercise. In fact, first responders in Olathe have conducted this pre-prom drill for 22 years. However, firefighters said, when a new set of teenagers see the tragedy that can happen, it gets the message across.