VAN VLEET – It is the kind of event emergency responders hope never happens, but one they must be ready to respond to at the highest level.
Area firefighters, ambulance crews, police and sheriff's deputies were part of a school bus wreck training exercise hosted by the Chickasaw County Emergency Management Agency Saturday morning with emergency responders learning the details and dangers of getting kids safely off a wrecked school bus.
“The Houston School District donated an old bus to us and we used it as part of this training,” said Linda Griffin, director of Chickasaw County EMA. “We've got two instructors from the Mississippi State Fire Academy here to help us with this training.”
Griffin said the training started with four hours of classroom study and was backed up with four hours of hand-on training with the bus.
Mike Kopp, of Houlka is a bus driver and also an emergency responder and he said local school buses can carry up to 70 students.
“We also got a lot of different kinds of buses,” said Kopp. “Some are diesel, some are natural gas and all of them are built a little different.”
Griffin pointed out Buses are built very differently from a normal passenger vehicle and present special problems.
“The things that make them safe for kids are also the things that would keep those kids inside in the event of a wreck,” said Griffin. “We've got to know exactly what to do and where to go when we get there and seconds count.”
It is not as simple a breaking a bus window and getting kids to crawl out. And of course emergency responders might have to go inside to tend to the injured.
“If a bus is on it's side it's a long way to the top where the windows are,” said Griffin. “Doors could be jammed and so you would have to lift students out one at a time through a broken out window without cutting them.”
Griffin said the class also taught responders how to “crib” or stabilize a school bus, where the fuel tanks and batteries were and the locations of major steel reinforcing bars and lift points.
“We work with passenger vehicles and 18-wheelers on a regular basis and thankfully we haven't had a major school bus wreck around here in a long time,” said Griffin. “But this training is to get us prepared to respond. We hope it never happens. If it does we are ready to respond in a way that gets those kids help the best way we can.”