WASHINGTON _ From now on, Lee Presser and his 11-year-old son, Shawn, might include a wireless phone with their hiking equipment.
The Pressers, from Glen Carbon, Ill., took a break from their cross-country trip and stopped in Georgetown, Colo., for a hike. As they climbed up Saxon Mountain, pebbles and mud replaced the firm rocks below. Presser fell and collided with his son. Both fell 30 feet.
‘‘I tore open my head and I was knocked out cold,'' Presser said. ‘‘Now the roles were reversed. Now he had to be the adult.''
Shawn Presser took his dad's wireless phone and called 911. He had to direct the emergency vehicles. Sometimes he told them if their sirens got louder or quieter. Other times he used landmarks. The 74-minute call led to their rescue.
Shawn Presser was Illinois' winner of the VITA (which means ‘‘life'' in Latin) award, sponsored by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. The VITA award recognizes individuals who have saved a life using a wireless phone.
A panel of law enforcement officers and emergency medical professionals chose one winner from each state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico to receive the VITA award, which was first presented in 1993. This year's winners were recognized at a banquet on June 14 in the National Building Museum in Washington.
‘‘They had to have shown courage and heroism by calling for help in an emergency situation,'' Lisa Ihde, the manager of wireless education programs for CTIA, said. ‘‘There are situations where the wireless phone is significant in creating a safer environment.''
Wireless phones are also criticized for endangering health and safety. Research is being done to see if using wireless phones can cause cancer. Past research has been inconclusive, according to a National Cancer Institute report released in May of 1999.
Wireless phones do cause distractions that make crashes more likely, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report released in November of 1999. Other reports say having a driving accident is four times more likely when using a wireless phone.
CTIA, founded in 1984, has education programs to teach people to use their wireless phones safely. They insert safety tips in their customers' bills as part of their Safe Driving Education campaign.
The NHTSA has also noted the safety benefits of wireless phones. Users often make calls to report disabled vehicles, accidents, hazardous road conditions, medical emergencies, and crimes in progress. Ihde said wireless phones have reduced the time it takes medical services to arrive on a scene and have made it easier for people to report drunk drivers.
‘‘A wireless phone is important to highway safety,'' Ihde said.
Amber Scott of Anderson, Ind., received a VITA award for her use of a wireless phone while in a car. Scott stopped for a train to pass. A truck hit her car, and she collided with the train. She was trapped under the 33rd car of the train as it sped down the tracks. She dialed 911, the police told the train engineer to stop and Scott survived with only minor injuries.
‘‘These VITA winners' actions exemplify the meaningful role that each one of us can have with a wireless phone in an emergency situation,'' Ihde said.