Students trained for bus emergencies |

Students trained for bus emergencies

William Ferchland
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / With school bus supervisor Dan O'Rork collapsed at the wheel, Zephyr Cove Elementary School fifth-grader Charlie Jurzenski learns to use the bus radio in case of an emergency.

Screams coupled with smiles are nothing new on a school bus. But throw in a bus driver slumped over the wheel, and you have an emergency.

All three were at work Monday morning along Warrior Way as hand-picked Zephyr Cove Elementary students learned how to hit the emergency brake and call for help on a school bus’ radio as part of a training exercise centering on what to do if the driver is incapacitated.

As he circled the Whittell High School campus in a school bus, Dan O’Rork, transportation supervisor for Douglas County School District, repeatedly moaned aloud before slumping over the wheel so various students could run up to the dashboard and smack the emergency brake button.

The bus would quickly ease to a stop. With O’Rork and bus driver Sandy Maxwell looking on, students would then grab the radio mic and announce they needed help, that the bus driver was in need of aid and their location.

“If the driver can’t call for help, who’s going to do it?” O’Rork asked as numerous hands shot up.

The scenario is scary, but a possibility. On Monday a school bus driver in Pennsylvania suffered a heart attack, crashed and died while starting her route.

“What if something did happen?” Maxwell said. “We don’t want it to happen up here and if it does we want to be prepared.”

“This whole thing is designed around you guys being safe,” O’Rork said before the exercises began.

First-grader Dylan Kixmiller said he was “learning how to save people on the bus.”

And the point was hammered home. Various students would be picked to hit the emergency button. Once O’Rork pretended he passed out, shrieks would erupt as the particular student would run up the aisle to stop the “runaway” bus.

“Help! My name is Charlie. We’re by the elementary school and our driver is in bad shape,” said fifth-grader Charlie Jurzenski.

After awhile, some students turned it into a game where they would slump over and pretend they were injured. One of them, fourth-grader David Sando, eventually was chosen to save the bus and looked back to report how many students acted injured.

Sando, two seats from the front, kept on eye on O’Rork when no one else was as the driver again slumped over. Sando saved the bus, and yelled at Jurzenski, who was sitting in the front row, as O’Rork collapsed while the bus was headed back to the elementary school.

“I guess we pay attention way more than others,” Jurzenski said. “I was a little scared because we almost crashed two times, actually three times.”

At the end of the exercise, O’Rork and Maxwell reminded the students they should sit close to the front of the bus and keep an constant eye on the driver.

Tori Jimenez thought she could act quickly if the pretend scenario ever became a reality.

“It’s easy if you watch the bus driver,” the fifth grader said.

Kixmiller, the first grader, took a couple seconds before answering.

“It seems easy but it’s not really easy.”

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