Chief praises emergency crews' coordination in Vt. MCICoordination and communication between the emergency and fire crews helped the victims escape with relatively minor injuries, the chief said
By Howard Weiss-Tisman
The Brattleboro Reformer
PUTNEY, Vt. — Emergency responders from throughout the region reported to the bus crash on Interstate 91 Friday, and by the end of the weekend, all of the victims who were treated in nearby hospitals had been sent home.
Putney Fire Chief Tom Goddard, who helped lead the rescue operation near highway marker 23 between the Putney and Westminster exits, said coordination and communication between the emergency and fire crews helped the victims escape with relatively minor injuries.
"Everyone worked together. It was a tremendous effort by everyone who reported to the scene," Goddard said Sunday. "At first we did not have a clear picture of what was going on and everyone worked together to make sure the victims received the care they needed."
Rescue and fire personnel from throughout Windham County and southwestern New Hampshire sped to the scene after the first report came in of a bus rollover on the highway.
Because of the magnitude of the event, a unified command post was set up between Putney Fire, Vermont State Police, Rescue Inc. and the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Goddard said the information was very sketchy at first and responders were expecting the worst.
"This is what we train for," said Goddard. "We train for hours and hours and hours and it all paid off on Friday."
The bus, which was heading north on I-91 to Quebec for a weekend ski trip, crashed just before 4 p.m. Friday.
Seventeen passengers were transported to hospitals in Brattleboro, Springfield and Lebanon, N.H.
The bus was carrying a number of passengers from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said the hospitals and emergency crews worked closely with the university.
"The work between our police and the Vermont State police was excellent," said Blaguszewski.
According to Blaguszewski, UMass spent most of Friday afternoon and evening trying to track down accurate information and keeping parents and family members informed.
He said the hospitals and state police both worked closely with the university.
"This was a situation that was disconcerting and time sensitive," Blaguszewski said. "We thought the responses of the Vermont State Police and the regional hospitals were outstanding."
While there were many UMass students on the bus that crashed, it was not an officially sponsored trip and Blaguszewski said it took awhile to get an accurate account of the names of the students on the bus.
Original accounts reported critical injuries, but all of the students were released Friday night after receiving minor care.
"Thank goodness it was less serious than originally reported," Blaguszewski said. "We know it takes time for everyone to get the right information out and there was a very good relationship between our police and the Vermont State Police and the hospitals. Everyone was impressed."
By late Friday, all of the injured UMass students had been released and they were transported back to Amherst in a school vehicle.
Joe Schoppy, who owns the company that provided the charter buses, said the driver was in stable condition early Saturday and probably would be released from the hospital soon.
Schoppy spoke with the driver, whose first name is Andy, Schoppy said.
According to Schoppy, the driver started feeling sick and was slowing the bus to pull over.
"He felt a tingling, and the next thing he knew he woke up in a ditch by the side of the highway," Schoppy said. "They are running tests and trying to find out what happened."
The driver had been with the company for about six years and had never had an accident.
He just returned from a long distance trip to Florida.
Like Blaguszewski, Schoppy also recognized the work of fire and emergency crews who kept in close contact with Schoppy's office.
"It's amazing how everyone took control of the situation," he said. "They made sure everyone was safe and warm. Their response was mind boggling."
Schoppy said the bus was still in Vermont, Sunday, and inspectors were determining the condition of the vehicle.
Investigators were at the site throughout the weekend trying to determine why the bus crossed the north and south bound lanes and ended up overturned on an embankment on the southbound side.
On Friday, Vermont State Police Sgt. Michael Sorensen said at the scene that it appeared as though the bus driver had not applied the brakes because there were no skid marks on the highway or on the grass.
Lt. Kraig LaPorte said Saturday that the State Police was "a long ways off" from releasing any information about the cause of the crash.
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