When asked how they spent their summer vacation, at least eight local students will be able to say they learned a survival skill they hope they’ll never have to use.
The eight, participants in Atmore Area YMCA’s summer camp program, got a hands-on demonstration on the various ways to exit a bus if it turned over or if an emergency situation arose in which exit through the front door was impossible or unsafe.
Paul Chason, the local Y’s chief executive officer, said the July 13 bus evacuation drill also served another purpose, to help instill confidence and develop leadership skills.
“The goal today is to give them different scenarios, kind of give them an idea of what to do under each of those scenarios,” Chason said prior to the exercise.
“These eight kids might be on eight different buses. A lot of the time if you have one person who knows what to do, if they’ll jump in and take charge because they know what to do and have some confidence, we may well be ahead of the power curve.”
The drill was conducted by Robert Spicer, a substitute bus driver for the Escambia County School System who worked for 16 years with Walnut Hill Fire Department and several years with Atmore Ambulance Service.
Spicer pointed out that the county’s various schools conduct bus evacuation exercises twice a year. But, he pointed out, most of the focus of those drills is on the two main exits – front door and back door.
“This is a good exercise to come up with a plan where we take it just a little farther than just exit by the front door or back door,” he said. “If you get into a situation where a bus slides off in a ditch, and you can’t use the front door to get out, you can’t get the emergency windows open, there are hatches on top of the bus.”
He told the youngsters that most school buses have two top hatches, as well as four windows that can be swung outward like a door in the event of an emergency.
He also explained that the safest place for children in an emergency is on the bus.
“The only time they ever leave that bus is if there’s an emergency where there’s the potential for fire,” he said. “If you turn them loose, you expose them to more dangers than just the accident with the bus. That’s where the driver has to evaluate the situation and decide if it’s a safe or unsafe situation. If there’s no evidence of fire or no electrical hazard, we call another bus out there and offload them to that bus. If that’s not the case, we’re going to evacuate them.”
Lt. Daniel White and Firefighter A.J. Beachy of the Atmore Fire Department, who furnished and steadied an escape ladder or otherwise helped with the drill, during which Spicer, aided by YMCA employee Tony Glover, went through several scenarios with the campers.
The adults took turns leading or physically assisting Braiden Peebles, Courtney Richardson, Teagan Hughes, Caitlin Pieper, Keaton Bush, Declan Troyer, Corbin Crysell and Clayton Richardson as they made their way off the yellow school transport.
Spicer reminded the campers at the end of the exercise that they were more informed than most regular bus riders about how to react if an emergency evacuation became necessary.
“This is not something that routinely occurs, but you want to be ready when it does,” he said. “You guys are now more trained than most students. You know more now than most of the kids who ride buses.”