Getting on the bus

Firefighters from across Michigan participate in a school bus extrication exercise in Reed City to learn how to safely remove children

REED CITY — Firefighter Phil Sheppard and the crew from the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Department traveled more than 200 miles on Saturday to receive training that could help save children’s lives. A total of 36 firefighters gathered in Reed City on Saturday to participate in a school bus extrication seminar, where they cut open two retired school buses using the Jaws of Life and other firefighters’ tools. “It’s greatly beneficial to know what to do in a situation like this if it happens,” Sheppard said. “Training like this is not something you do every day. … It’s invaluable to know how to follow the right procedure.” Kevin Sehlmeyer, owner of Rockford-based Rescue Resources LLC, led the all-day training seminar. Firefighters came from departments in Sault Ste. Marie, Evart, Hersey, Baldwin, Reed City, Lincoln Township and Colfax Township to participate in the event. The training prepares firefighters for the unthinkable scenario of a school bus accident, Sehlmeyer said. Different teams cycled through the various assignments assigned during the hands-on exercise. “In 2011, about 1,200 school bus accident were recorded, with only five fatalities,” Sehlmeyer said. “About 850,000 kids travel on buses in Michigan every day…. The idea of the morning workshops was ‘How do I cut into a school bus? How do I make access to kids or patients on the school bus?’ and what we’ve moved into (in the afternoon) is a full-blown school bus scenario. We have kids and dummies trapped inside the bus. It’s the job of the firefighters to take what they learned this morning and apply it by cutting up this school bus and making access points to get in and get the kids out.” The exercise also looked at the coordination between agencies that would be involved in a school bus accident, including the school district, sheriff’s office, local police and fire, EMS and neighboring departments. Because of the extra care required to safely remove children from a large vehicle like a bus, firefighters have to set up a on-site chain of command to make sure redundancies aren’t made and all bases are covered. “A school bus (accident) is a little different than a car (accident),” Sehlmeyer said. “One of the things we have to do when we have a school bus accident is the fire department has to coordinate with the local school district (to account) for every one of the kids. “We also know we’re going to have parents looking for their kids, so part of our job is to try to confirm who the kids are on the bus. “It’s a big coordinated effort, but it’s a reality that could happen every day in Michigan with the amount of school buses we have moving around the state.” Capt. Rick Ball, of Lincoln Township Fire Department, was one of the many firefighters who took part in Saturday’s training seminar. He said the hands-on exercise was very beneficial. “We’re here because of all the school buses we have,” Ball said. “This is awesome training to have, because you never know when something like this could happen.”