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.
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.