Firefighters use donated Dexter school buses for important training


Firefighters train in bus extrication using an old Dexter school bus. photo by Lonnie Huhman

While watching a group of firefighters train in school bus extrication, it quickly becomes apparent that school buses are strong vehicles.

Around 15 or so men and women from around Washtenaw County, including the fire departments from Chelsea, Dexter and Saline, gathered recently at the Dexter Community Schools Bus garage and lot to do some training that is really important, but which they rarely get to do.

“We don’t get to do this a lot,” said Chris Smyth, a Captain with the Chelsea Area Fire Authority, noting the difficulties in finding buses they can use to basically tear apart with tools like the Jaws of Life.

The last time a group like this did training such as this was in 2008. Smyth said they had been working for the past three years in trying to put a class like this together.

Around 50 firefighters in total were expected to train with the old Dexter buses over this past weekend and into this week.

“Thanks to Dexter schools we are getting the chance,” Smyth said of the donations to the county firefighters of three buses from Dexter Community Schools, who were planning on retiring and scrapping the buses.

Over a few days the firefighters trained in the parking lot using tools like saws, spreaders, air chisels, stabilizing struts and Jaws of Life. Smyth said buses are designed to have emergency plans for the kids and other occupants to get out, but there might be situations where the doors and ways out are damaged or obstructed, so another way is needed.

This is where these tools come in, so it’s good for the firefighters to train with real buses so they can get some important and possibly life saving hands-on experience.

Smyth said buses are built to withstand impact and they are reinforced to protect the occupants, so it’s a challenge to cut them up in order to gain entry and rescue.

At one point in the training, the firefighters were cutting through one rear door with several of the tools on hand. The trainer emphasized the situation will dictate the techniques and reaction to the emergency.

Smyth said this course is definitely a specialty one.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” he said of a bus extrication. “But when it does this helps us to be better prepared to help the students and others inside.”

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