Old bus may help save lives down the road
A lot of old buses get turned into campers, or face other, more undignified ends. One bus, though, has ended its life the way it began: serving the public.The bus, bought new by the Denver-area Regional Transportation District in 1981, and purchased used several years ago by Eagle County’s ECO transit agency, was most assuredly at the end of its service life.As ECO officials were trying to decide how to dispose of the old articulated bus and two of its stablemates, Vail Transit Supervisor John Sheehan proposed an idea: use the bus to train firefighters.”I’m always reading in transit magazines about bus crashes, and how it’s always a challenge for firefighters and EMTs to get people out,” Sheehan said. “This was just a great opportunity.” It was a cheap opportunity, too, with a purchase price of just $1. A towing charge almost got added to the price, though. “I was right at the interchange when it started to overheat,” Sheehan said. “I was just hoping I could make it up here.”
Once at the Vail town shop, mechanics cut the bus in half at the accordion-type section in the middle, leaving the front on its wheels and the back on its side, so firefighters could train for different types of accidents. And train they did.Firefighters have just one set of tools for just about every call they answer (see box). At the July 21 training session, those tools were laid out near the back half of the bus, and firefighters had to essentially work a puzzle in reverse, learning which of their tools were best for taking apart the vehicle.Vail Fire Department Technician Al Bosworth ran the exercise, urging the crew to act as if they were at a real incident.”We don’t have time to get another blade! What else do you have?” he said when the gas-powered saw went through a blade after cutting just a couple of feet along the bus’ roof. Crew members then broke out air chisels and pry bars. After several minutes of hard work, the crew finally opened a hole perhaps six feet long and two feet wide in the old vehicle.During a break, team leader Mike Mulcahy reviewed the crew’s progress. He pointed out that a few of the firefighters seemed to be working against each other while opening the hole.
“Think of this as just another passenger vehicle,” Mulcahy told the crew. “Don’t get overwhelmed by it. Get in teams and work with team leaders. They need to step back and see what needs to be done, and to think about plan B, plan C and plan D while everyone else is working.” Learning how to think about an incident is as important as actually learning what tools work best, Bosworth said. “No two jobs are alike,” he said. “You have to think on your feet.”Over Gatorade and brownies, after cutting the hole, the firefighters were still excited about having a chance to practice for something they hope they never see.”It was incredible,” Roxy Ligrani said. “We’re really learning the capabilities of the tools we have.” Josh Wells agreed, adding he’d never had a chance to train on a bus.
Those chances don’t come very often. ECO transit planner David Johnson said the agency operates its buses on a 12-year replacement schedule, and expects to replace its vehicles when they’ve rolled up about 600,000 miles. Even then, though, the vehicles will likely go to another transit agency.Johnson was impressed that Sheehan and the Vail fire crews wanted one of the old buses for training. “To be honest, I’d never thought about using it for that,” he said.But for the fire crews, the chance to cut up an actual bus is a way of training for an event that, while rare, is probably inevitable.Vail’s bus system hauls more than 1 million passengers per year. ECO hauls about 750,000 people a year, putting about 1.2 million miles a year on its 24-bus fleet. Add in the number of school buses, Greyhounds, tour buses, and giant RVs that roll through the area every year, and the chance to work on one of the big vehicles before there are injured people inside one looks better all the time.”The guys were so excited,” Sheehan said. “When we were done, every one of them shook my hand and thanked me.”Members of the public will probably do the same if they’re ever in need.