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Bus 'rollover' elicits speedy, professional response
FOCUSED — Firemen work with focused precision to cut through the roof of an overturned school bus in order to rescue the "school children" trapped inside during a mass casualty incident drill Saturday in Bryant Pond.
Sheriff Wayne Gallant comforts a "young student" while awaiting her extrication.
BRYANT POND — It is 7:30 in the morning following the first bone-chilling overnight freeze of the season.
Fire, rescue and law enforcement are stomping their feet to keep warm in the 20-something-degree air, their breath billowing, as they mill about the municipal ball field in Woodstock.
They are waiting to begin a mass casualty incident drill.
Those observing are herded onto a school bus and driven down the road past the UMaine 4-H Camp & Learning Center. Around the corner is a sight no one ever wants to see.
A bright yellow school bus is lying on its side and "children's bodies" are lying on the ground surrounding it.
The observers disembark from the bus and are instructed to a roped off seating area up the hill from the school bus. The scene is reminiscent of the theaters of Ancient Greece.
On a rise to the side is the Mass Casualty Incident Trailer. Inside, two Oxford County Regional Communications Center dispatchers – Cammie Sprague and Nicole Newton – sit in front of computers, radios and toning devices.
For the next few hours the onus of the coordination of a successful "rescue" of small children will be on their shoulders.
Across the field is a bright yellow tent. This is being warmed and is where "real world" injuries will be taken. ("Real world" is the designation given to non-drill injuries and information.)
Two red-vested men stand at the ready with clipboards. They will evaluate how the drill went, make recommendations on how to improve response and praise what went well. Today the evaluators are Steve Goldsmith, Fryeburg Rescue chief and Ray Seames, retired Greenwood fire chief.
It is 9:30 a.m. and inside the dispatch trailer tones go out. There has been a "Woodstock Elementary School" school bus rollover with multiple injuries. PACE and Woodstock are toned out. A few minutes later they are on the scene and calling for more aid.
Screams are tumbling out of the bus. An arm here, a leg there, can be seen through the front and back windows. One "child" can be seen trapped in her seat, head and shoulders hanging, blood on her face. These are real students playing the victims as well as blow-up victims.
"I want my mommy," can be heard amid the crying.
Dispatchers tone out Woodstock Fire and PACE, then Greenwood Fire, Tri-Town ambulance and the Sheriff’s Office.
Hospitals are notified. School officials are notified.
Command asks for more aid so Bethel Rescue, Bethel Fire, Paris Fire, Newry Fire and Gilead Fire are requested.
Superintendent of Schools David W. Murphy of SAD 44 arrives at the scene and takes charge of coordinating the notification of parents.
Fire and more rescue begin arriving on the scene. Victims outside the bus are quickly triaged. Most seem to be ambulatory. They are given neck tags that indicate priority for care and transport.
The Sheriff and multiple deputies arrive. They cordon off the scene and prepare to direct parents to a gathering place – Woodstock Elementary School – and keep curious onlookers and the media out of the way.
Forest Ranger Jay Bernard takes over as point man for the media, which "has arrived" in droves. He holds a brief "press conference" stating what is obvious but promises more in a half hour. He is bombarded by "media questions," none of which he is able to answer at that time.
Fire departments begin to cut open the roof of the bus in order to access more victims.
Other firefighters use the Jaws of Life to remove the emergency exit door at the rear of the bus. Still other firefighters sit inside the bus comforting children and helping EMTs.
Amateur ham [short wave] radio operators roam the scene communicating with hospitals. Ham radio operators are sitting in the hospitals communicating info from the ham radio personnel on the scene with hospital staff directly. The ham radio personnel are volunteers through the Oxford County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES).
Ambulances leave, others arrive.
Generators roar drowning out the cries.
At one point a firefighter whips out a can opener to help with a troublesome seat they are trying to remove. It works.
Firefighters use a tool that cut the roof of a bus in a back and forth motion very much like the old-fashioned can opener that cut through the tops of cans.
A reciprocating saw is applied and the cutting continues. Eventually the metal top of the bus is gone and firefighters pull out insulation to get to the interior roof.
In the meantime, most of the 30 some odd victims have been removed and triaged. Most are "on their way" to area hospitals.
PACE paramedics confer with the ham radio operators and deputies to make sure patient information is coordinated and all children are accounted for.
Within an hour, every victim has been extricated, triaged and, because the school district asked that all of the students be seen, "transported by bus" to SMH with an EMT on board and an ambulance following them, just in case ... .
A quiet settles over the field. The sun has melted the frost and the grass is no longer crunchy.
Rescue workers gather for what they call a Hot Wash – an after action review.
Carefully they critique themselves, offer suggestions and point out deficiencies.
The evaluators will be a few weeks preparing their reports but this moment is for the participants themselves to discuss what they experienced.
Things like where emergency vehicles should position themselves so as not to have personnel tripping over hoses and electrical lines, parking responder cars so as not to block access for large emergency vehicles, toning out more response than might be needed and turning them back instead of waiting until command requests them were some of the suggestions offered.
Organizers began planning for this exercise in April.
A discussion-based table top exercise was conducted in September and gave participants an opportunity to discuss how they would respond to a school bus accident and how they would communicate with each other.
“Bus accidents can and have happened in our county,” said Teresa Glick, deputy director of Oxford County Emergency Management Agency.
“By conducting this type of hands-on exercise, first responders and other participating organizations have an opportunity to practice and refine their skills in a low-pressure environment that still gives them the realism of an actual event.”
Just a few weeks ago, there was a serious bus accident in Hebron.
While organizers anticipated that the exercise would take about two to three hours, because it was artificially paced, it was over in less than one.
Had it been a real disaster, responders would most likely have been able to extricate and triage the victims in even less time.
Those participating Saturday totaled 73 and included:
Woodstock Fire Department
Greenwood Fire Department
Bethel Fire Department
Paris Fire Department
Newry Fire Department
Gilead Fire Department
Oxford County Sheriff’s Office
Oxford County Regional Communications Center
Oxford County Emergency Management Agency
Oxford County CERT Communications Team (Ham Radio Team)
Oxford County Incident Management Assistance Team
Hospitals involved included Bridgton Hospital, Stephens Memorial, Franklin Memorial, Central Maine Medical, St Mary's Regional, Rumford Hospital and Memorial Hospital in Conway, NH.