Yes, it was a fire drill. Of a bus, actually.
Last Tuesday, white smoke filled the Lake Wales Charter School bus in seconds, creeping along the windows in a blinding cloud while firefighter/paramedics boarded the bus to make sure all on board were out. The realistic smoke heightened the importance of holding a fire drill for the school bus drivers and attendants on hand to participate and observe the procedure held the first time by the school district.
Steps to a successful outcome should a bus catch on fire, were explained in detail by Deputy Fire Chief Brian Draper assisted by Mike Sykes, firefigher/paramedic.
“The first thing you do when you smell smoke or discover a fire is to notify the office,” Draper said. “The second thing is to get the students off the bus. If the fire is small, the size of a trash can, you can put out the fire with a fire extinguisher, but if that fire is large and growing, just get the children off the bus. You are going to have quite a pile of kids at the back of the bus and must keep them away from the bus, but together in a group to keep them safe.”
By notifying the school office first, the emergency staff can reach the location quickly while the bus driver and attendant make sure the children are safe.
“I told the attendant to get off the bus and get the students off the bus while I called the office on our location,” said Cheryl Carani of Lake Wales, bus driver for Bus 1269 used for special needs students, practicing the drill on the bus. “Sometimes students will panic and hide so you must look under the bus seats.”
“I am looking at all the seats (on the bus) and keeping low,” Sykes said. “You have to get low because that is the last place the smoke will go after it rises. We are taught to use touch. All seats must be checked underneath.”
Get students closest to the fire out first and in the opposite direction of the fire, Draper told the drivers.
“Your main concern is to keep them together (once they are off the bus) and monitor them for medical conditions because an ambulance and paramedics will be coming,” Draper said. “Make sure they (students) stay together and no one runs off, or goes home because they live close by. There is a lot heaped on your shoulders.”
Deputy Draper cautioned the drivers that “it is going to happen gradually when signs of smoke are seen. Think quickly and get the kids off the bus, and don’t open a window. That only draws the smoke to another place.”
When the firefighters arrive, once the status is checked if everyone is off the bus, they will board the bus and check one more time for students, and “then we go and fight the fire,” Draper said.
“This is excellent training,” said Cheryl Pitts, LWCS transportation coordinator. “If we ever have a fire, we want to safely evacuate our buses and keep our students safe. The drivers get CPR and first aid training as well.”
The event was held during one of the transportation department meetings with drivers and attendants held monthly, said Richard Columbo, director of LWCS transportation.