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Training crash triggers traumatic memories
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Manteca firefighter Tony Taberna listens to Lee Ann Micilinich, left, tell about her bus crash with a garbage truck on Austin Road in 2008 where 10 children were transported to the hospital. Darlene Seay was the backup driver who picked up some 40 children in her bus from the crash site. - photo by GLENN KAHL

A mock school bus crash was all make-believe Wednesday afternoon, but for the drivers who volunteered to sit inside the precariously slanted vehicle after a collision with a drunken driver it seemed all too real as they heard the sirens of approaching fire trucks and ambulances.

The simulated two-day Manteca Fire Department Mass Casualty event was designed to give drivers an idea of what to expect if they were involved in a traumatic traffic collision with children on board as well as first-hand training for first responders.

Smoke billowed from the windows of the bus as firefighters and trauma responders reached the scene. One veteran bus driver relived memories of a collision with her bus number 49 on Austin Road near Arch Road in 2008.

Lee Ann Micilinich said she considered not attending the training because her memories are still fresh in her mind from when a garbage truck sideswiped her vehicle gashing the side and blowing out the tires on the right side on Austin Road near French Camp Road on Oct. 2 nearly three years ago.

“It was the first sound of the metal cutting into the side of the bus,” she said she distinctly remembers even today.  Her blood pressure was extremely high, but after she settled down in the ambulance it dropped to 76 over 40, she said – all stress from trauma.

She and her backup driver Darlene Seay spent some time after the training ended Wednesday talking with Manteca firefighter Tony Taberna about the earlier crash that sent 10 of her some 50 children on board to hospitals.  Many of the children were reportedly traumatized from their experience.

The truck driver never saw her, she said, as he pulled out of a side road near the Transfer Station.  The longtime driver said she couldn’t think about herself having to calm and care for the children as firefighters later attempted to check her out and put a triage tag on her.  Refusing, she told them they couldn’t put anything on her that would make the children think she wasn’t OK.  She felt that might traumatize them even more.

As for her experience as an observer Wednesday, “I’m fine, but I’m glad it’s over,” she said.  Lee Ann added that she has only driven bus 49 one time since the incident and cannot bring herself to get back on board again even to this day.

Bus driver Chris Ehrman acted as the bus driver on the initial day of the two-day simulated event getting a broken femur in the crash that left him wedged beneath a seat.  Firefighters had to extricate him on a back board – a difficult challenge inside the vehicle tipped on a 45-degree angle.

Ehrman said it was really loud inside the bus when firemen began to cut an escape hatch in the roof of the vehicle with metal circular saws. 

“In case of an emergency I now know the procedures,” he said as he talked with other employees after the training exercise.

School district instructor Melinda Trimboli said she and the drivers have always talked about the option of escaping out through a front window.  She said they didn’t know how easy it would be to kick the window out in an emergency.

Firemen demonstrated when they removed the driver.  Three kicks and the window fell flat on the ground without breaking. 

Those sustaining injuries on the bus included three immediate injuries, one was delayed with a broken leg and five were minor and were taken out through the rear escape hatch.

The DUI driver of the pickup was played by Frank Horn who exited the vehicle as emergency vehicle arrived and fled the scene following the script.

As for cutting into the side of the bus with the metal saws and kicking out the window, Fire Captain David Marques said they learned it was easier than they thought it would be for them to accomplish.

All the injured had undergone makeup before the event to add a more realistic aspect to the scene.  Today will see the second bus rescue when remaining firefighters, ambulance personnel and school bus drivers will play out the training scenario.