By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, McLEOD COUNTIES, MN The sight of a school bus full of children tipped on its side can be chilling, even when it’s just a drill.
Thirty FFA students from Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District volunteered to be “victims” in a planned mock crash southwest of Howard Lake Tuesday.
“We haven’t had bus extrication training for a long time,” Wright County Emergency Management Director Steve Berg said. “You try to rotate your trainings.”
Thinking about the possibility of a devastating crash isn’t pleasant, but it’s sometimes necessary to prepare for the worst, Berg added.
“The purpose of the drill is to work with different entities,” said Denny Bobrowske, training officer with the Howard Lake Fire Department.
The drill required cooperation from the fire and rescue teams of Howard Lake, Waverly, and Winsted, the ambulance services of Howard Lake, Allina, and Ridgeview, North Memorial Air Care, the sheriff’s offices of Wright and McLeod counties, the police departments of Howard Lake and Winsted, the emergency management teams of Wright and McLeod counties, Buffalo Hospital, and Wright County Public Health.
The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District was also involved, and administrators were at the scene to help identify victims.
In order to ensure the safety of all participants, 80th Street was closed from Wright County Road 6 to Ingram Avenue during the drill.
Students’ “injuries” ranged from “walking wounded to critical,” according to Berg. Some were able to step out of the bus nearly unharmed, while others were carried out on stretchers. One student had a fake eyeball dangling from his face, while another pretended to be severely cut with shards of glass.
In order to free the students at the front of the bus, rescue squads had to take out the windshield. A boy near the entrance cried out in “pain” as workers carefully transported him to an ambulance.
“The training is especially good for younger rescue personnel who haven’t had to do this type of thing before,” Berg said.
A bus extrication is similar to a small vehicle extrication, but it presents unique challenges.
“A bus is higher than a normal car,” Berg said. “There are different ways to open it up.”
“The number of people on board, and trying not to lose track of that,” is also a challenge, according to Bobrowske.
In addition to rescuing students from the bus, the staged crash also included a rescue from a nearby car.
This type of training is useful to prepare emergency workers for many incidents, even if they are not vehicle-related, according to Bobrowske.
“It could be an apartment fire, or something else where there are a lot of people involved,” he said.
Coordinating efforts with several local emergency services needs to be smooth and efficient, Berg said.
“The time to get to know each other and get used to working together is now, before something happens,” he said.
Last winter, Wright County switched to an 800-megahertz radio frequency, while McLeod County is still on VHF. When an incident occurs that involves both counties, emergency workers need to be prepared to handle both modes of communication.
An “after action report” will be compiled to clarify what went well during the drill, and what could be improved. The next step is a “corrective action report,” detailing specific changes that departments plan to implement.
“We’ve already had questions from other schools that would like it done in their area,” Bobrowske said.
Many aspects of the drill followed an actual accident procedure, and the Wright County mass casualty incident (MCI) trailer was on site with supplies.
However, only five ambulances were sent to the crash.
“If we had a real bus crash, we would probably need to send out 10 to 20 ambulances,” Bobrowske said.
HLWW students participating in the mock crash included Mac Kottke, Jon Young, Clayton Hanson, Robert Laxen, Sarah Drusch, Sarah Kunz, Mikayla Karels, Kayla Stueven, Vera, Josh Laxen, Chris Cox, Blake Klinkner, Ashley Murphy, Becca Zander, Emily Mages, Andrew Kieser, Katie Hirsch, Magalie Diedrich, William Schanus, Gabby Gruenhagen, Jake Zander, Chris Diers, Kelli Lachermeier, Darrin Jones, Amber Zubrod, Jacob Demarais, Carl Heuer, Tyler Gruenhagen, Tony Hausladen, Jeff Hausladen, Alex Workman, Adam Klinkner, Darren Jones, Trevor Laxen, and Ethan Groos.