DICKSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s how your children leave and the way they come home five days a week. Hundreds of bus trips per year lead to crashes, which is in turn leading local school districts to prepare for the worst.
A dozen or so students filled a tarp on the Dickson County Fairgrounds earlier this month for a drill.
Their injuries ranged from minor to critical, three needing helicopter assistance, after a school bus tipped over on top of a Pontiac.
Just one hour before though, it was a different story. The same students filled a Dickson County bus, ketchup at the ready, getting into character for the one-of-a-kind drill.
Nearly a day’s worth of preparation by six different agencies culminated in the 45-minute drill. It was the first of its kind in Dickson County and was a lesson in controlled chaos.
“We use it as a training exercise, it’s for student safety, which is a top priority for us as we look to see what we can do,” explained Steve Sorrells, Director of Student Services with Dickson County Schools.
The scenario: a bus on its side, a bus driver incapacitated, a student radioing for help, with other bus drivers the first to arrive on scene.
“We were testing the ability of the bus drivers to see how they handled the situation, as well as law enforcement, EMS and [fire crews],” said Sgt. Jacob Blackwell, with Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Situations such as these are top of mind statewide after the unthinkable played out in Chattanooga last November.
Six students were killed and 31 others injured after a bus driver lost control while driving along a windy residential road. Authorities have since said speed was a factor.
The Chattanooga crash was one of 655 involving school buses last year alone, according to THP.
“We hope that nothing like this ever happens, but at the same time, we’ve got to have a plan to react to it if it does,” said Sorrells.
“They needed to get that ability to feel what it’s like to be in that chaos,” added Sgt. Blackwell.
Officials with Dickson County and THP hope to host another drill next year with an even higher stakes scenario.