Athens City School District donated a school bus to Athens Fire Department and will allow the department to use the East Elementary School building for rescue training in July before it is demolished. 

ACSD school board members approved the bus donation during a February school board meeting. It will be used in the fall to train Athens firefighters for situations involving rescuing victims from crashed buses, AFD Chief Robert Rymer said.

This is the second bus that the school district has donated to the fire department in recent years. The first was donated in 2015, according to a summary of board meeting minutes. 

“I think it is wonderful to give our area first responders learning opportunities with our old equipment, such as the buses,” ACSD School Board President Kim Goldsberry said. “Our fire and police force can learn better when they have a real school bus or building to use. This is a very rare opportunity for them and a great learning opportunity.”

Because buses and other large vehicles are taller than passenger vehicles and have fewer exits, reaching the victims trapped in these vehicles can be difficult. Firefighters must go through special training to rescue, or “extricate,”  victims of a large vehicle crash, Rymer said.

With the donation of the school bus, AFD will be able to hold a school bus-specific vehicle extrication class at home rather than sending firefighters to the Ohio Fire Academy in Reynoldsburg, which can be more costly and time-consuming. 

Large vehicle extrication training involves learning about weak spots in vehicles that can be cut into using rescue tools like the Jaws of Life, a hydraulic tool used to cut and pry open crashed vehicles to reach the victims trapped inside. Each training scenario varies based on the type of vehicle.

This training also teaches firefighters how to turn bus seats into miniature backboards for smaller victims. 

Despite the rarity of accidents involving large vehicles in comparison incidents, firefighters must continually go through extrication training to ensure they are prepared at all times, Rymer said. 

“It is what we deem as a low frequency, high risk, because it doesn't happen all that often, and so you have to train a little bit more,” Rymer said. 

He also said the department doesn’t train for false alarms because those are common and become second nature. He explained that heavy vehicle rescue doesn’t happen all the time, so the department has to constantly educate and train for it.

The training is especially worthwhile because of the amount of accidents on the highway around Athens, Rymer said. Firefighters used similar techniques in January 2018 after a fatal accident that involved a tanker truck driver who lost control and careened off an overpass onto Richland Avenue.

ACSD also gave the fire department and the Athens Police Department the go-ahead to use the East Elementary School building for fire-rescue and live-shooter training in the summer after all education staff vacate the building. The district will push back the demolition by a week to allow the departments to train.

“So they're saying, ‘You know what, because this is such a benefit for the community as a whole, we're willing to hold off our construction, our demolition, our project for a week, because we know this is going to be education,’ and that's what Athens City School (District) is about,” Rymer said.

The rescue training in the East Elementary building could involve cutting holes in concrete floors and walls or breaking down doors with axes and other forcible entry tools, Rymer said.

It’s always appreciated when department can get Athens residents to partake and help out to keep the community safe, he said.

Special instructors will be able to come in and train firefighters from AFD and possibly other departments in the region. The class will likely be held at the land on Kenny Drive that TS Tech recently donated to the fire department, Rymer said. 

ACSD School Board member Sean Parsons appreciates the mutual benefit of the district’s donation.

“I think it's great,” Parsons said. “It’s right for our first responders to be able to train on stuff in the event — God forbid — anything happens, but they will have that experience and training that could ultimately save lives, and I think that's right.”

The fire department appreciates the donation as well, Rymer said. 

“Someday? We get a billion dollars or so, maybe we'll be able to get a nice training facility where we can go down and do that every single day, get the staffing — that'll be great,” Rymer said. “But as of now, we'll take what we can get.”