Lessons from a dinosaur

Sara the Safety-Saur-Us stopped in Steamboat to teach kids

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Jeff Brown is used to the stares.

You could even say the retired firefighter enjoys the attention -- so much so that he'll pull out a video camera and stare right back.

Of course, the gawks and gazes and understandable, Brown admits. You'd stare too if a dinosaur drove past.

Grand Junction residents Brown and Chris Hollandsworth are the brains and muscle behind the Safety-Saur-Us Injury Prevention Project, an interactive workshop that teaches health and safety to children across the state.

The project's signature symbol is Sara the Safety-Saur-Us, an old ambulance that was converted a couple of years ago into a replica of a triceratops.

Sara and her keepers rumbled into Steamboat Springs late last week and spent Friday at area elementary schools, where second- and fourth-graders learned about the importance of protecting their brains and spinal cords as well as other safety and health-related topics. Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue public education coordinator Jacqui Campbell heard of the Safety-Saur-Us project and arranged for its visit.

Injury prevention has been the focus of the Safety-Saur-Us project since its inception three years ago; preventable injuries are the leading cause of death and disability to children in Western Colorado.

While safety and health lessons aren't necessarily fun for kids, dinosaurs are. Hence Sara, the giant, Styrofoam-and-stucco dinosaur that attracts attention wherever it goes.

"The approach is to get people's attention -- and we do a real good job at that -- and to make it fun," Hollandsworth said.

Sara's inside is a portable classroom of sorts -- seating for students, a video screen for safety videos and larger-than-life organs that light up and pulse, demonstrating the relationship between the brain, spinal cord and the human body.

"You need to learn good ways to protect your brain and spinal cord, they're very fragile," Hollandsworth told one group of kids.

But the Safety-Saur-Us project is about much more than a souped-up ambulance. Stations manned by Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue personnel, community service officers and other members of the Yampa Valley Injury Prevention Coalition taught kids about the dangers of smoking and chewing tobacco, how to read nutritional labels, the meanings of street and road signs, and how and where to sit in an automobile.

"It covers a lot," Brown said. "Depending on what the community is seeing and what the kids are involved with we can gear it to that."

The Safety-Saur-Us Injury Prevention Project is sponsored by a variety of Western Slope businesses and organizations, particularly Grand Junction's St. Mary's Hospital, where Hollandsworth is employed as an injury-prevention coordinator. Brown and Hollandsworth travel the state, usually charging a fee that covers travel expenses -- if that. The project gives away hundreds of bike and sports helmets annually to kids in the hope that they will prevent serious injury and death to the state's future leaders.

"If we hear of one person who says, 'I crashed on my bike and that helmet made a difference,' then the whole program paid for itself," Brown said.

The safety messages got through to at least some of the Soda Creek students.

"If you break your spinal cord, everything will stop working," second-grader Isaiah Maynard said.

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