Three school buses: A rare training opportunity for Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District

Algonquin-based Community School District 300 donated the buses for the training

It’s not every day that the firefighters at Algonquin/Lake in the Hill’s Fire Protection District get to take apart a school bus.

But that’s exactly what they did as part of their training Thursday afternoon, using a bus donated by Algonquin-based Community School District 300.

District 300 donated three buses to the fire protection district earlier this month, giving fire officials what they say is a rare but important opportunity to practice. One bus will be used for each shift of firefighters.

Getting a school bus like this to use for training can be hard, Deputy Chief John Knebl said.

“It’s not like a car that was wrecked,” Knebl said. “That was so nice of [District 300] to think of us.”

A bus crash, like the one simulated Thursday, is considered “high risk, low frequency,” said Battalion Chief Matt Berg, who led the training.

“You can have anywhere from just a driver, or in this particular case, up to 77 passengers on a bus,” Berg said.

In a case like this, he said, first responders would have to remove the bus itself, away from the patient or patients involved, as they would in a normal car crash.

A couple of mannequins were entangled in the seats at Thursday’s training. One crew worked outside to gain access to the bus, while another crew cut seats away from the two trap “victims.”

Using different tools – including hydraulic cutters, saws and drills – fire crews worked through the different layers of the bus.

Access to the patient is one of the most difficult parts of rescuing someone from a bus, Berg said, along with cutting through these layers of steel and metal.

“The school bus itself is so unique in its design, in its construction, that for us to get a donation like this is probably once every five years,” Berg said.

This makes the donation all the more valuable, fire officials said.

“I can’t go and simulate with some metal how to cut like this,” Berg said. Even the way a school bus’s seats are anchored to the floor is hard to mimic, he added.

School buses are on the road all year long, Knebl said. While firefighters hope these kinds of accidents never happen, if it does, the department will now be more prepared, he said.

District 300 was very excited to partner with the fire department, said Deborah Mason, the district’s director of transportation.

The donated buses were about 12 or 13 years old, making them unable to remain in service for student transportation, Mason said.

A donation like this hasn’t been done by the district before, Mason said, but she and David Garcia, the warehouse manager for District 300, decided to reach out to see if the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District could use it for emergency preparedness.

“We’re keeping it within the community,” Garcia said. “We have to make sure everything’s good for the kids of our district.”

Whitey’s Towing of Crystal Lake helped get the buses over to the fire station. Once the fire protection district is done with them, Whitey’s will haul the vehicles away and earn money from the scraps.

“It all just works out for everybody that way,” Knebl said. “They help us out all the time when it comes to car donations or training.”

Cassie Buchman

I cover Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Cary, Fox River Grove, Prairie Grove and Oakwood Hills for the Northwest Herald.