EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 23, 2013

Attention, Windham: This bus 'crash' is only a drill

By John Toole

---- — WINDHAM — Enough Nesmith Library patrons wondered about the “bus wreck” on Fellows Road that Fire Department officials decided they better put up a disclaimer.

“They were curious, especially when it was on its side,” assistant library director Lois Freeston said yesterday.

“People were saying, ‘Uh-oh, what happened?’” Assistant Fire Chief Ed Morgan said. “We had to put a sign up.”

The sign lets people know firefighters are in training.

They will be at it again today, practicing how to get students out of a bus wreck.

Morgan oversees training for the department. He likes the department’s personnel, more than two dozen people including chiefs, to be prepared.

“This year, I looked into getting a bus,” Morgan said. “You never know if you will have an emergency with a bus.”

Woody’s Auto Repair and Towing in neighboring Pelham answered Morgan’s call.

Owner Russell Wood said he is not surprised the bus has proved attention getting over on Fellows Road.

“That is an 83-passenger bus,” he said. “It weighs about 23,000 pounds.”

Woody’s donated the bus, which it obtained from First Student Inc., a private school bus company.

“We tow for that company. I put in the word that Windham wanted one to do some training,” Wood said. “They usually auction them when they are done, but they liked the idea.”

Morgan and the rest of the Windham Fire Department were very appreciative of this special gift, as well as other vehicles donated for extrication training this summer by Bauchman’s Towing of Windham.

Morgan said the training is important to the department. It gives firefighters the chance to work with different vehicles and learn how best to get into them and get people out.

“We were able to put the bus on its side and see how well built it is,” he said.

It can be very difficult to cut into a vehicle until you know how it is built, Morgan said.

“We go out and see how things work,” he said.

They were thorough in their training.

“Basically, we were able to take the whole cab off,” he said.

Firefighters have been using tools like a reciprocating saw, which lets firefighters cut fast with different blades through wood or steel.

They have jacked up the bus with air bags and stabilized it with cribbing and blocking. They have used other tools for spreading and cutting, too.

There are always valuable lessons.

“We found out ways to move windows in a hurry,” Morgan said.

They suit up for practice, wearing helmets and gloves.

“They are doing the things they need to do to be ready to go,” he said.

What’s nice about training is firefighters can take time to experiment in a way they couldn’t with a real bus crash out on the road.

“When things go wrong, we stop,” Morgan said. “We say, ‘What’s going on here?’ We may be using the wrong tool and we find out what’s most effective.”

For Morgan, there’s no substitute to these drills.

“Training is always very important,” he said. “You need fire personnel to do this.”