Following a school bus crash in May, officials at Buckeye Local School District in Rayland, Ohio, held a training event with first responders to better prepare firefighters if such an event occurred again.
On May 7, a school bus was driving up on a hill on County Road 15, when it encountered a van on the other side of the road with a flat tire. The bus driver saw the van and started slowing down. However, as she was approaching the van, a flatbed pickup truck came speeding over the hill in the opposite direction.
The pickup truck driver spotted the van and swerved into the adjacent lane, hitting the school bus head-on. The school bus was full of 25 high school students and the driver, who all managed to evacuate without serious injuries. Some students were transported to the hospital for minor head injuries and/or concussions.
The pick-up driver, who was a student at Buckeye local and the son of a district mechanic, was transported via helicopter from the scene. He reportedly suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung but survived.
A pick up truck collided head on with a buckeye local school bus this morning on County Road 15. The pick up was driven by a student as well. Most of the students are being checked for non-life-threatening injuries @WTOV9 pic.twitter.com/V4McYA0920
— Alex Taylor (@AlexWTOV9) May 7, 2021
Tony Panepucci, the maintenance supervisor for the school district, said he was inspired to use the destroyed bus for training. Panepucci also serves as the Mt. Pleasant Fire Department chief and in his 36 years in the fire service had only participated in a school bus training once.
He explained that the all-day event took place on July 10 and was hosted in conjunction with rescue training company Crash Course Village. It consisted of three school buses that were donated by the district. First responders practiced on the first two buses. He explained they experimented with various techniques and tools while learning the proper way to cut the bus and which tools work best.
“Some of the tools that we thought would be used, weren’t used that much,” Panepucci said, adding that 46 first responders that serve the district were in attendance. “You always see on TV or the news or even in training the hydraulic tools and the jaws of life. And those were used sparingly, it was mainly the basic air chisel or sizzle tool, that we did a majority of the cutting with. So, that was something that we didn’t think of.”
The third bus was transformed into a real-life crash scenario, in which Buckeye Local School District bus drivers played as injured students. Director of Transportation Scott Celestin played the school bus driver in the mock casualty event, in which the firefighters had to cut him out of the bus seat.
“They broke the windows out, they cut through the bus, and they used the jaws of life to get the dash out around me,” Celestin recalled, noting that the firefighters carried him out of the bus.
Of Celestin’s 17 school bus drivers on staff, 10 were in attendance. “[The drivers] found it very interesting and they learned a lot about buses and how they’re made. It gave them a sense of how the buses work and what’s going to happen in an accident and how to proceed,” he said.
Celestin added that his staff were happy to be a part of the event
“This training was invaluable,” Celestin said. “We all pray every day that you’ll never have to experience something like that but if you do, and you get this type of training … it could save minutes, possibly save lives.”
He explained that the biggest key is communication between the school district, fire department and EMTs.
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Meanwhile, Panepucci is in the unique position of communicating with both the school district and the fire department in near real-time.
“Being the fire chief, I have a radio to communicate with 911 and also a school radio,” Panepucci explained, noting that he is also an EMT. “So, if there is an incident, I respond both as an employee and then as a first responder — from school bus [crashes] to bomb threats or fire alarms. It’s just kind of worked together then I’m able to communicate with all the fire departments and with first responders coming to the scene. I can give them a report before they get there. So, it’s been beneficial.”
Panepucci said he hopes training like these can happen more often, but due to the amount of time and resources, it takes, for instance needing school buses, for some it could be a once-in-a-lifetime training.
Panepucci added that event wouldn’t have been possible without the sponsorship from the Special Tactics and Rescue Training Program, also known as START, as well as the help from Bill’s Towing and Recovery.