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Lombard firefighter spreads message about texting, driving

LOMBARD – When he walks up to a car wreck, Greg Vazquez, a firefighter and paramedic with the Lombard Fire Department, checks for skid marks.

Often, skid marks of 200 or 300 feet suggest a mature driver in the front seat who lost control of the vehicle who tried, unsuccessfully, to stop.

Short or nonexistent skid marks make Vazquez’s heart sink, because it usually means there’s a young driver in the car who was distracted and didn’t realize he or she was about to crash.

“Some of the things we see last a long time,” Vazquez said.

For the past three years, Vazquez, a 25-year veteran with the Lombard Fire Department, has operated The Right Direction – a program that has him visiting high schools and speaking to students about the dangers of texting and driving.

Statistically, new drivers are 26 times more likely to be involved in a crash while texting and driving, compared with older, more mature drivers, he said.

His interest in the issue began in 2009 when he was taking a firefighter training class and prepared a public service announcement about texting and driving for a class assignment.

“My eyes were really opened about how dangerous it really is, especially for new drivers,” he said.

After the project was complete, he showed it to the fire chief, who agreed it was information local high school students needed to know.

The Right Direction was formed as a separate entity from the Lombard Fire Department.

Now known as “Firefighter Vaz” throughout the schools, he first visited Glenbard East and Montini Catholic under the program. It was his first time speaking in front of students.

“The feedback we got from the students was a really humbling experience,” Vazquez said. “Some of the images are graphic, but I talk to them like adults because they are adults.”

His presentations are filled with pictures, videos and statistics to educate drivers on the decisions they make when in the car. It’s a lot of information in a short amount of time, and although Vazquez knows students won’t absorb and retain everything, he is confident that the overall message sticks.

This year, he wants to expand the program to more high schools, community groups, driving schools and other venues. He has added a second instructor to teach classes and is working to develop sponsorships with car manufacturers and cellphone companies.

“I’m trying to give them the information they need to be the best drivers they can,” he said.

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