Emergency and school officials stage mock disaster (Photo Gallery)

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 12:00 pm on Tuesday, May 01, 2012

School bus driver Terri Witham gives the peace sign to observers as Montcalm County Emergency Medical Services emergency medical technician Richard Enness, in back, emergency medical technician Ryan Klackle and Greenville Department of Public Safety Officer Dave Clifford wheel her away as a "rescued accident victim." — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

MONTCALM TOWNSHIP — More than 100 firefighters, emergency and law enforcement officials and school bus drivers stood in the rain for an hour Monday morning to stage a massive mock disaster involving two cars and a school bus.

The Montcalm Area Intermediate School District (MAISD) asked Montcalm County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to help them create a disaster training session for school bus drivers. The event took place in the parking lot of Montcalm Township Hall.

EightCAP Inc. assisted by donating an old school bus. The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office and firefighters from Day Township, Greenville Department of Public Safety and Montcalm Township also participated.

“Anytime we can do this, where we can have all the different agencies work together, it’s good for the citizens of Montcalm County,” said EMS Deputy Director Eric Smith. “We have school buses that go up and down every road in the county, so the potential for an accident is there. This is just one more opportunity for us to work together and train together.”

Threshold Academy school bus driver Terri Witham plays the role of a car crash victim waiting to be rescued. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

About 90 school bus drivers gathered inside Montcalm Township Hall before the session began. Stella Alcala and Terri Witham, both school bus drivers for Threshold Academy, were among those who had make-up applied so they would look like they had been involved in a serious accident.

“They made some of them pretty ugly,” joked Smith.

Alcala and Witham then took their places as drivers in two cars with passengers. The drivers supposedly crashed into a school bus containing special needs students — also played by school bus drivers.

EMS and firefighters extricated the drivers and passengers from the cars as observers watched in the rain. Firefighters then cut open the school bus to “rescue” the passengers.

EMS officials made the scenario as dramatic as possible for the MAISD participants.

After the mock disaster, school bus drivers gathered back in the shelter of Montcalm Township Hall to debrief with transportation supervisors Dee Evans and Rosalee Hull.

Hull said the goal of the exercise was for school bus drivers to learn how to respond to an accident, as well as for EMS officials to become more familiar with what needs they may encounter in the event of an accident — especially an accident involving special needs students.

Evans said in the future she plans to have break-out sessions with her office and school bus staff about what they observed Monday and how to improve procedures.

“I felt that it went well and all entities gained knowledge from this exercise,” Evans said. “The coordination between the county, EightCAP and the ISD gave us a new perspective on an accident scene and how everyone responds to the situation.”

Montcalm Area Intermediate School District school bus driver Fran Marsh also shared with her colleagues about a recent school bus accident she was involved in. No children were on the bus at the time of the accident.

“This really is about you guys,” Smith summarized at the debriefing. “Thanks for letting us play, guys.

“Some people were excellent actors,” he added, as the school bus drivers burst out laughing.

Day Township firefighter Brandon Baird and Montcalm Township firefighter Bob Hyde work on cutting up a school bus as Montcalm Township Fire Chief Clif Dickinson supervises from the inside of the bus. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

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