LEE -- Two dozen teenagers were "trapped" in the overturned bus. A car was in a nearby ditch. Dispatchers fired out calls for emergency responders and the Jaws of Life.
But this was not the typical crash scene. Instead of gasps of horror from onlookers, the crowds shared smiles and joking barbs. And the dispatch calls came with an important caveat: "This is only a drill."
Monday evening's "crash" was a simulation of the kind of accident no one ever wants to experience. But local firefighters got the opportunity to test themselves in the event of a real mass casualty incident.
"My fear has always been that if we had an accident, how are the fire departments, the EMTs, going to respond?" said Terri Gardino, manager of Dufour Bus Co.'s Lenox Dale office.
Dufour donated a retiring bus for the drill, and crews from Lee, Lenox, Otis and Stockbridge responded in this unique training exercise. Crews are expected to reconvene next Monday to review how they performed, according to Gardino.
And while everyone involved knew it was merely a test, crews responded as if it was the real thing. Firefighters surveyed the scene and worked to help the teens out of the bus. The youths were dealt with in a manner corresponding with simulated injuries.
"We've got another car," a firefighter shouted out as he noticed the sedan in the woods, and a member of the Lee Ambulance Service crowded up to the bus pretending to be a distressed father.
"My son's on the bus," he shouted as firefighters tried to keep him back.
Meanwhile, inflatable air bags were propped under the bus to lift it and pull out a dummy with its lower half trapped underneath.
All told, crews were in and out of the scene in a half-hour.
Lee Fire Chief Alan Sparks said he was pleased with the results, and the mutual aid that's so critical to local departments. He said there hasn't previously been an opportunity to practice in these types of settings, and an accident of this magnitude is something crews would be well advised to be ready for.
"We try to come up with what we can to train the guys and keep everyone in good shape," Sparks said. "They did a very good job."
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