By Elise Franco
A crowd of 400 stood and watched as Austintown firefighters used the “jaws of life” and a power saw to save six people from a school bus.
Those six weren’t injured, though.
They were local bus drivers who volunteered to partake in a training scenario Tuesday during a transportation in-service day at the old Austintown Middle School on Mahoning Avenue.
The smoke-out was organized by Austintown and Jackson-Milton school districts.
Colleen Murphy, transportation supervisor for Austintown schools, said that about 400 bus drivers from all over Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties participated in the training day this year.
“This is a continuation of training we do with drivers every year,” she said.
During Tuesday’s training session, the drivers were able to see three controlled scenarios: fire crews helping a fellow driver evacuate his 24 passengers in a bus full of smoke, crews using a saw and the “jaws of life” to rescue another driver and his six passengers, and crews extinguishing the bus as it was fully engulfed in flames, Murphy said.
“This is the largest turnout we’ve ever had,” she said. “Everyone wanted to see the evacuations. With the bus accidents that have happened as of recent, I think the drivers are concerned, and they wanted to learn more.”
Robert Harmon, consul- tant for the Ohio Department of Education, said every bus driver already should have a plan of action in place in the event of an accident or fire while driving.
Harmon said though average response time for suburban fire and police departments is between three and eight minutes, urban communities could take anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes to respond, so the bus driver has to know what to do to keep passengers safe.
“Now’s the time to think about that, not when an accident happens,” he said. “If you come upon an emergency and you can’t evacuate a school bus, you’re not doing your job.”
Ken McCowin, a bus driver for the Campbell School District, said just seeing how the fire department works in those situations was helpful.
“It’s great experience because it’s something we’ve never had the opportunity to see before,” he said.
McCowin said he’s been driving for 34 years and always has to think about the children’s safety.
“The more you know, the better off you’ll be,” he said. “We have to keep the safety of the kids in mind at all times.”
Glenna Wilson, a driver for the Austintown School District, said she was surprised at the amount of time it took to cut the side of the bus and extract one passenger.
“I’m sure in the event of a real accident, they would get everyone out that they could as soon as they could,” she said. “This is good experience for our firemen too.”
Austintown Capt. Ray Harnevious said the fire department’s “golden rule” is to make any extraction within an hour of arrival on the scene.
Harnevious said 20 minutes is a relatively short amount of time, and most extractions take longer because there is damage to the vehicle.
“After that hour, we’re all in trouble,” he said. “That goes for any vehicle.”
Harnevious said in his 36 years as a firefighter for Austintown, he’s seen extractions on dozens of cars, very few on semitrucks and none on school buses.