By Tom Sproat
A tanker truck loses control of its brakes heading southbound along James Street North, colliding with a school bus full of students. The bus flips onto its side, spilling students onto the street and pinning two beneath its weight; the tanker truck careens down towards Trout Creek, coming to rest near the edge where it begins leaking 14,000 litres of gas into the water. This tragic scenario was the focus of a joint effort between local OPP, the St. Marys Fire Department, Huron Perth Paramedic Services and other emergency units who on Wednesday morning from 9-12am executed a real-time emergency response exercise on a blocked off section of James Street, just east of the Legion.
Beginning with “the call” coming in over radio transmitters just after 9, the morning’s relative silence was soon broken by the wailing cries of incoming sirens travelling from various points throughout the town. The fire department arrived first on the scene, followed by paramedics and then the OPP, all parties moving purposefully throughout the scene of the accident and the surrounding area to undertake the myriad of responsibilities that come with a situation like this. DCVI students selected to play the role of injured bus passengers lay splayed across the street in various positions, each tasked with a specific list of injuries to report to the first responders arriving at their aid; those with minor injuries were directed to a waiting area on the side of the road while victims of more serious trauma were rushed away by ambulance to the ‘hospital’, a role played by the temporarily repurposed Royal Canadian Legion. While members of the firefighters hosed down the bus and began preparations to raise it back to four wheels, gravel was dumped on the riverside ‘gas leak’ and the tanker truck was towed away by staff of Lucan’s K&K Towing. Overhead hovered an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), providing real-time video footage to emergency response HQ positioned on the road beneath. It was truly a coordinated team effort, and that was the point.
“Training is of the utmost importance”, commented Mayor Al Strathdee, himself on the scene to witness the exercise. “There are so many agencies involved and it’s important that we communicate with them to try and figure out just how we would respond were something like this to occur”. OPP spokesperson Constable Michael Melnychuk echoed those sentiments, adding that today’s exercise offered a valuable chance to reassure the public that the proper procedures and elements are in place to effectively deal with any number of emergency scenarios: “It is important for the public to see us all working together, to really see what all of these different agencies bring to the table[…]At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to work together for the safety of the community, for the people of St.Marys.”
That commitment to the public good is hard to disagree with, and after such a comprehensive display of cooperative emergency response, onlookers are sure to have left feeling that should the worst ever come, the best will come shortly thereafter.