Archive for Friday, October 27, 1995

REAL-LIFE TRAGEDY HEIGHTENS DRILL

October 27, 1995

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The scheduled scenario of a Lawrence emergency personnel test involved a school bus accident.

The irony of an Illinois school bus accident killing five students the day before a planned Douglas County emergency personnel drill involving a bus accident didn't escape local officials.

On Thursday afternoon, more than 80 officials from the Lawrence police and fire departments, the Douglas County Sheriff's and Emergency Preparedness offices and Douglas County Ambulance Service tended to young victims from two local Scout troops in a mock school bus and garbage truck accident at 12th and Oregon. The accident portrayed 19 fatalities and almost 20 injuries to test emergency skills.

The drill, which had been planned for three months, came the day after a commuter train ripped apart a traffic-stalled school bus in Fox River Grove, Ill., killing seven youngsters and injuring another 28.

For mother Helen Seeley, who helped chaperone the Scouts who participated in the drill, that tragedy made the emergency exercise all the more realistic.

"It made the shock that the kids could go to school one morning and I could get a call saying, 'There's been an accident,' real," Seeley said as she watched her daughter Christina, 12, feign burn injuries. "The fear of a mom became a shocking reality."

For emergency personnel, the Illinois tragedy brought a grim reminder that performing well under such pressure is vitally important.

"It validated the fact that accidents can happen every day," said Paula Phillips, emergency preparedness coordinator. "It makes you stop, think, wonder and worry."

Fewer than 20 Girl and Boy Scouts played the role of injured children during Thursday's drill. Before he got a card detailing his injuries, 8-year-old Adam Phillips said he was "looking forward to getting killed" as he waited for his assignment.

Adam later was disappointed to learn that he would suffer only first- and second-degree burns, though his 12-year-old sister Jenny was gleeful that part of her injuries involved her hair catching fire.

"I only get burned on my arms," Adam said dejectedly. "Too bad. I'm the last one to go to the hospital."

Phillips said she was pleased with personnel performance and said the everyone learned from the drill.

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