YMCA donates school buses to help fire dept. training

Because of their generosity, 33 firefighters were able to work on buses of varying lengths and capacities

Herald & Review

DECATUR, Ill. — The Decatur Fire Department has a tradition of training for any potential emergency. So when the board president of the Decatur Family YMCA offered to donate school buses to firefighters, they saw it as a unique opportunity.

“We do extrication training twice a year,” Fire Chief Jeff Abbott said, adding the bus exercise is a first for the department. “This gave us an opportunity to practice on school buses. Every year there have been a couple of school bus accidents in Decatur, but they've not been that serious. It's a good opportunity to train on them before something serious happens. We jumped at the chance.”

In addition to two well-used buses donated by the Y, Available Auto Parts, 2670 N. Woodford St., kicked in another bus that it had in stock.

Abbott said the auto parts business has been very generous over the years, donating its vehicles for extrication training, and positioning them any way the firefighters designated for various scenarios.

Because of the generosity of the Y and the business, 33 firefighters were able to work on buses of varying lengths and capacities, ranging from a short bus that carries 25 passengers to a full-length bus carrying up to 71 students.

Each of the three training days last week included a scenario in which a smaller vehicle was placed underneath a bus.

“In each case, the objective was to free someone inside the vehicle under the bus,” said Deputy Fire Chief Rich Pruitt. “That was a scenario where they got to apply all their skills.”

One of the main purposes was to learn to test the extrication tools on a larger vehicle carrying multiple passengers. The tools include saws; cutters; spreaders; and rams, a heavy-duty kind of jack. They are driven by a power head, a hydraulic pump operating at about 9,600 pounds per square inch of pressure.

The firefighters made some discoveries, such as that using cutting tools to snip off the seat supports left potentially dangerous stumps. So they shifted to the spreaders, positioned them beneath the seats, and snapped the bolts off that were holding the seats in place.

Lt. Doug Neff demonstrated that the powerful cutters can make quick work of components that were built for strength and durability. A cutter sliced through the frame of a large back window in seconds.

“Cutters can cut through anything, including hardened steel,” Neff said.

A ram, which is used to lift the dashboard and steering wheel off drivers of conventional vehicles, was used to lift the roof of a large bus.

That enabled firefighters to climb into the bus to rescue the victims during the exercise, Neff said.

Two of the department's companies have primary responsibility for extrications, Capt. Tony Vespa said, while a third engine company has a smaller extrication unit.

“When there is an accident with known injuries, dispatchers send three companies and a battalion chief,” Vespa said. “If it's on the interstate, we might have a helicopter sent. The Illinois State Police gets involved and we try to shut down at least one lane. If there are a lot of injuries, we would shut down both lanes in one direction.”

In an accident, the goal is to get the patient away from the vehicle as soon as possible, hopefully within 15 minutes.

“That's not always possible,” Vespa said. Extrication from conventional vehicles involves “taking the car away from the patient.”

In most crashes involving school buses, the buses are struck in the rear end, Vespa said.

He said the firefighters appreciate receiving the donated buses.

“It's hard to get buses to work on,” he said, adding it is a different kind of challenge, especially because of the massive structure of a bus. “These guys enjoy doing this.”

Melissa Watson, who concluded her term as the Y's board president on Sunday, said she heard from the CEO about six weeks ago that new buses were needed, because two of the used ones were suited for the junk yard.

From prior conversations with her husband, Decatur Fire Capt. Wade Watson, she realized the buses could be of possible use to firefighters.

“My husband talked in the past about training on cars, but I never heard him talking about a bus,” said Melissa Watson, who has served as a leader of several nonprofit organizations. “ It was an honor to create a collaboration between the fire department and the Y. It was a great opportunity to make that happen.”

Jimmy Devereux, owner of Available Auto Parts, said the ball got rolling on the idea of extrication training at his yard about 10 years ago, when Vespa and other firefighters asked if they could test new tools at his yard.

“They came up with the idea to use a couple of cars,” Devereux said. “We created an auto accident using real cars.”

Devereux said credit should also be given to Lugari's Truck Repair, for donating towing services to move buses during the exercises.

Extrication training is something appreciated by Devereux, who routinely sees the results of numerous accidents.

“We would rather they practice here, before they cut out us out of a car,” he said.

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