ST. MARYS — As sirens wailed through the air, screams could be heard coming from the school bus turned over off U.S. 33. The first responders calmed down the frantic parents and the students’ peers, as others worked to free the trapped children and unconscious driver from the inside of the vehicle by cutting open the top of the bus. Luckily, everyone was extracted safely, but to those in the audience, it represented their worst fear.
On Wednesday night, St. Marys City Schools hosted its first school transportation drivers’ workshop, sponsored by the Auglaize County Educational Service Center, which featured a mock bus crash adjacent to the high school-middle school complex. The in-service has been held at other school districts in the past but not at St. Marys.
“The bus drivers have to have a certain number of continuing education hours every year to maintain their bus driving certificate, so this fulfills one of those obligations for professional development or an in-service training,” said Ann Harvey with the ESC.
“This is everybody that drives in Auglaize County. I’m at the ESC, so we coordinate this every year for them, and we’re also working with some Hardin County schools so we’ve got Ridgemont drivers here as well.”
The crash, she noted, featured first responders from the region.
“It’s supposed to be very realistic, so anyone involved in a real bus crash would be here tonight,” Harvey said, also noting the dinner served by Woody’s Diner. “We always, as a little thank you to the drivers, have a sit-down dinner, then we can talk for a little bit and then go outside for the program.”
St. Marys City Schools Transportation Supervisor Dan Grothause organized this year’s in-service.
“The scenario is they’re on a bus route, late afternoon, the driver has an accident and rolls over and there’s 11 students on board with injuries and the driver’s injured, too,” Grothause said. “It’ll be an opportunity for the fire department, the EMS to train how they would respond. It’s more or less an informational thing for the bus drivers in the county to kind of show them what happens in an accident scenario, and hopefully we never have to go through it.”
He noted the district hasn’t seen the kind of accident depicted Wednesday evening, but accidents do happen.
“We’ve had accidents but nothing major,” Grothause said. “We’ve had minor accidents, fender benders and things like that, never a rollover, and hopefully, knock on wood, we never have one.”
He noted, though, they can.
“You think, with traveling 1,000 miles a year, 180 days a year, we see a lot of vehicles every day, and hopefully it never happens for us,” Grothause said, noting they have an emergency plan in place to be prepared.
“We’ve got a plan for it, and that’s why we have procedures in our emergency plan, these guys have their protocols, so it’s good to get us all together so that if it does happen, we know each other and we can work well together.”
St. Marys drivers, staff members and students played the roles in the scenario, with the students and the driver receiving makeup done by EMA Director Troy Anderson’s family to represent wounds. Colin Grothause, Courtney Grothause, Lexi Grothause, Kassie Menchhofer, Devlan Taylor, Jennifer Lauth, Brett Lewis, Alaina Lewis, Anna Ernst, Molly Menker and Bethany Hertenstein were the students, St. Marys bus driver Marty Goens played the role of the driver and St. Marys drivers Denny Dedrick, Jim Rowen, Matt Colvin, Carol Brown and Bill Steinbrunner represented parents.
“It’s going to be a good experience to learn about what happens when a bus crashes,” Taylor said.
Alaina Lewis noted the situation would be helpful for the drivers so they’re aware of what to do, which would keep the students calm if they felt safe.
“So they know how to react in this situation so it’s not stressful for the kids because if they know what they’re doing, then the kids would be more relaxed,” she said. “It would be easier for the kids because they know what they’re doing.”
The students said the experience is good so the driver’s know what to do, but in their situation, the driver was unconscious.
“The driver can’t communicate to the first responders, who would be the one to communicate to the first responders in this type of situation,” Grothause asked them.
“Those of you who are just bumped and bruised, when they ask about stuff, if Brett’s unconscious, Alexis knows who Brett is so they can let them know who he is.”
He added the situation can also demonstrate to the students what can happen if the driver gets distracted.
“The scenario kind of is the driver is distracted and causes a crash, so it would be a good learning experience of why you need to behave on the bus so the driver isn’t distracted looking in the mirror,” Grothause said.
“Because all it takes, if you’re driving 55 mph, you look in the mirror, you drift off and you’re off the road. This is a way you guys can help get that message back to your classmates that if you’re on the bus, if they’re being a little rowdy, the driver looks up, all it takes is a second. It’s kind of a learning tool for you guys to take back to the other students, it’s a learning tool for the drivers so they know not to be distracted, because none of us ever wants to go through this.”
The bus used in the demonstration, Grothause said, is from Cardinal Bus Sales in Lima, the school’s Bluebird dealer.
“They’re really good about helping out with things like this,” he said.
“They let us use the bus. Nelson’s Towing towed it down here, they’ll take it back up tomorrow and they’ll scrap the bus out and we’ve been able to train on it in the mean time.”
The ESC puts on the program before the beginning of school, and with Waynesfield starting today, it was held Wednesday night.
Also for their certification, drivers can attend other in-services.
“Sometimes the local school districts will have meetings and they’ll go over new laws, new regulations, safety procedures, just anything that’s changed for them with their driving,” Harvey said. “If someone wasn’t in the county today, sometimes we’ll have people come from other counties.”
The following were the first responders at the scene: Ohio State Highway Patrol, Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office, St. Marys Police Department, St. Marys City Fire Department, St. Marys Township Fire Department, New Knoxville Fire Department, Wapakoneta Fire Department and Auglaize County EMA.