My Worst Call- The Seven Angels of Fox River Grove

Everyone has their worst call.

Mine occurred 15 years ago this morning as an express commuter train traveling at about 70 mph struck a school bus packed full of high school students.  Seven died and dozens more were injured.

Bus body comes to rest 180 degrees and off the chassis

The bus was stopped for a red light and a few feet of the rear portion remained within the path of the speeding train.  As the train gates came down on top of the bus, students screamed for the driver to move.  Some seated in the rear of the bus left the seats and ran forward to get c;ear of the impact point.

The train struck the bus, separating the body from the chassis with such force that several of the children were cruelly hurled directly through the side wall and windows of the bus as the body spun 180 degrees in a fraction of a second.

Four died instantly, three others would fight for their lives before succumbing to their injuries.

My department was small, and I was the lone full-timer.  Not yet on duty, I responded from home, about three blocks away.  Our Assistant Chief was having coffee across the street with a neighboring chief and was on the scene instantly.  He established Command and immediately called for a five-alarm EMS response and an additional request for three medical helicopters.

Arriving a few moments later, I was tasked as the triage officer.  I just went into automatic mode as I suspect everyone else did as well.

The chaotic scene, littered with dead and dying children, was awash with passing motorists cradling the injured.  Nurses suctioned airways, off duty firefighters forced entry into the mangled school bus.

There was screaming, and there was silence.  It was the most surreal event of my life.

Eventually, as resources arrived, everything gelled and ran as smoothly as could be expected.  An impromptu sector called “parents” was set up to control the response and notifications paramount during the incident.

In the following days, a dozen satellite trucks and the constant drone of helicopters permeated out small community.  It was the nightmare that seemingly had no end.  Rescue workers followed up with their patients with daily visits to their hospital bedsides.  Sadly, wakes and funerals seemed endless, but the community responded with open arms and compassion.

Each year we pause to think of the seven angels taken away from us on that crisp, sunny morning.  God bless those children and those they left behind.

Jeffrey Clark, 16
Stephanie Fulham, 15
Susana Guzman, 18
Michael Hoffman, 14
Joseph Kalte, 16
Shawn Robinson, 14
Tiffany Schneider, 15

Our Seven Angels.

15 Comments

  • Chui0323 says:

    I have just moved here in Barrington and Fox River Grove is the next village over and since I have been here I have never in my life heard of so many accidents and suicides in less than one year my whole life. Even though my son and I are firefighters, I come from a 100% line of railroaders from PA to IL and have never heard of all of these rail accidents. What is wrong. In one year there have been 3 suicides and 2 accidents right here in little bitty Barrington.

  • John,

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Mike

  • Chris Sterricker says:

    You and the rest of FRG were awesome that day, John. Just like the FDNY on 9/11 you were faced with a horrible scene and the actions that you and others took gave the best chance at life for the most. May the nightmares be infrequent and ever decreasing.

  • firehat says:

    Thanks for sharing. This is very powerful stuff.

  • Lisa Blanken says:

    John
    Bless your heart for sharing this I know my Dad, Tom Allen, was on his way home that morning from Wheeling FD, I know he also stopped to help. I hope that you are well.

  • Romanfit says:

    I remember; God bless my brother Jason-my best friend then & now; Jason was a Cadet on the Fox river grove Fire Dept & on that bus! Jason has been a full time Firefighter for years now. I love you Jason!! God bless all those presious souls that we lost that day & God bless their families! God bless all EMS & civilian who helped in “any” way on that day and the days that followed! “We remember”!

  • Romanfit says:

    John, I hope your doing well!

    When I talked to My mother about getting Jason to become a Cadet on the Dept., it was because his friends started getting into trouble & Jason had no “real” father figure. Jason was already a very caring & respectful young man & I didn’t want that to change! I believed the Fire Dept. would help Jason keep those attributes & teach him more, as well as give Jason many good “Father figures” to learn from! John you definitely were that to Jason and I thank you so much!

  • Andreaswanson says:

    It was 16 years ago, it happened in 1995, my daughter was born the day after.

  • Kellster29 says:

    Liz I can’t believe you posted this, I was living in Union Grove Wisconsin at this time. I was laying down when I heard on the news FOX RIVER GROVE I jumped up called my mom and I could hear over the phone the hellicopters flying overhead i…t was the worst sound I could of heard at that moment. Then her and I came up with an idea to go door to door to collect donations for all the family’s that had a loss in their life that day. We got a few more girls together, made up a map of the houses that didn’t have a loss cause we didn’t want to knock on one of their door’s. But my mom had made a mistake with the map and we stopped at one house,a man answered the door and said he lost his child that day and I just wanted to cry and curl up in a ball. The man said to me, give me a second, he went got money came back and said I want to thank you girls sooo much for what your doing it means a lot to him and please give this to the other family’s that lost a child that day. WHAT A GUY!!! I said thank you and walked away with tears in my eye’s. Sorry for the long story it just was a big impact on my life :(

  • Higbyd says:

    There was A picture of my Uncle Firefighter Paramedic Gene Higby from Cary at this accident. I do remember this. I was in Crystal Lake  when this happened.

  • JMcGrath35 says:

    This was in fact one of the most tragic bus accidents i can remember. At the time i was a student at Sussex Technical High school in Georgetown Delaware. We had a news program called channel one we watched every morning. When channel one was broadcasting the news of the accident you could of heard a pin drop, I who had always been interested in school buses instantly told my friend that the bus was either a Word or an Tran Am with an International chassis. That soon left my mine when they mention the 7 students that had lost their life. For weeks i could not get it out of my head and as a school bus driver myself every time i stop at a railroad crossing it is always in the back  of my mind. Its been 16 years and it’s lesson i will not soon forget       

  • Ageless Male says:

    thats was a great and heartbeaking story

    thanks for sharing 

  • Sparkyat54 says:

    Littered!? Worst choice of words ever. Seven children died and they were not littered. Also, most of them were alive when the paramedics showed up. Grow a pair

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John Mitchell

Firefighter/Paramedic and a Lieutenant in suburban Chicago
Comments
Rob
Packing heat with our halligan and a Glock by our gloves?
I was a volunteer for almost twenty years. When our members were police officers, they could carry on duty, concealed. I remember one night when I was the operator (driver) and responding to a house fire, three of the four firefighters on the truck were PD. I was handed three sidearms to take care of!…
2014-01-27 22:54:00
bhill
Packing heat with our halligan and a Glock by our gloves?
"lockbox on the truck" Does he carry his weapon in a lock box while on duty as a Deputy? I'm thinkin' not. Am I willing to use deadly force, and then turn around and try to save their life after I shoot them? Ain't happening. "individuals with police/weapons training" - the training teaches shoot to…
2014-01-27 19:33:00
Ken Nelson
Packing heat with our halligan and a Glock by our gloves?
I believe individuals with police/weapons training should carry fire arms. In our station's situation, our assistant chief is also a sheriff's deputy. I have suggested that he have his firearm with him in a lockbox on the truck in case a need arises. In addition some personnel are current military (Reserve, National Guard) who could…
2014-01-27 18:20:00
Marianna Randazzo
We Should Be Hearing All About Mike Behette Today, Rather Than Knowing So Much About the Navy Yard Shooter.
Thank you for this wonderful tribute to my dear friend Mike. I am in the process of writing a biography/anthology of Michael's life. I would be very grateful for your input. Please contact me on FB, Marianna Randazzo or Given Away, A SIiclian Upbringing. Respectfully yours, Marianna
2013-12-07 02:51:00
Fire Daily
WARNING: This video is graphic and depicts a man being rescued from his burning home.
Yes, Becky, I saw that too. As I was told by an ER doc many moons ago, "a patient without an airway is a dead patient." Not all firefighters are EMT's, and some may not have basic first aid skills- instead relying on a concurrent response from an emergency EMS agency. Not sure in this…
2013-11-27 11:27:00

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