Francisca Benitez

On Wednesday and Tuesday, the Oregon Department of Transportation hosted the 17th annual Safety Fair for children in Union County.

The age group alternates every year between kindergarten through 3rd grade and fourth grade through sixth grade. This year, the age range was kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Students from schools all over Union County were bussed in to attend the fair. Homeschooled students and children from Heidi Ho and the Grande Ronde Academy also attended. Between the two days, 1,264 children attended in total.

The kids watched short presentations at several stations set up in the Blue Mountain Conference Center.

Billie Jo Deal, Region 5 transportation safety advisor for ODOT, said the topics covered at the safety fair are chosen by a small ODOT committee each year after the committee analyzes data and statistics.

“We try to focus on the things that have been occurring the most in the community,” she said.

An animal control deputy from the Union County Sheriff’s Office ran a presentation about animal safety with the use of a life-size stuffed dog toy. The deputy explained the etiquette of approaching a strange dog, and how screaming or running from an angry dog could escalate the danger of being bitten or attacked.

Representatives from OTEC ran a presentation about electrical safety. They had a miniature model of power lines that even had electricity running through them during the demonstration to show how various hazards — like flying a kite or climbing trees too close to the power lines — can cause a shock.

A representative from the La Grande Fire Department, Robert Tibbetts, ran a presentation about the importance of wearing a seat belt. He used a piece of mechanical equipment called “The Convincer.”

It demonstrates what can happen to a child in a car accident at the speed of 25 miles per hour. A doll was seated in a chair and traveled a few feet until the seat jerked to a stop. With the seat belt, the doll remained in its seat, but without the seat belt, it flew out.

The children seemed to get the message. At the end of the presentation Tibbetts asked, “So, not wearing our seat belts at all — good idea or bad idea?” The children enthusiastically said together, “bad idea!”

Community Connections presented on pedestrian safety on the first day, and Oregon State Police ran the presentation on the second day. A representative from Operation Lifesaver, a national rail safety organization led a presentation on railroad safety.

All of the agencies involved funded the hours for the presenters, and volunteers helped coordinate and organize the event. Grande Ronde Hospital donated breakfast and lunch for the volunteers. Community partners donate items for goody bags full of stickers, information sheets for children and their parents, and small toys.

Deal said the children have a lot of fun at the fair. “They love it,” she said. “We get feedback from teachers each year and we have really great reviews.”