Almost 15 years ago, Twinsburg Schools bus driver Desiree Churn-Philpott encountered a crisis situation she always hoped to avoid. As she pulled up to a stop, a little girl on her bus looked out the window and saw her father.
“I can’t go out there,” the little girl whispered, explaining her father was a bad man.
So Churn-Philpott did the only thing she could think of. She kept going on her route, hoping to return shortly.
The man followed. That’s when she called the bus dispatch and had them alert police, who caught up with her and handled the situation.
“I wasn’t going to give that man an opportunity to get that little girl,” she said.
While Churn-Philpott did the right thing, she said she wished she had been trained to handle such a crisis.
On Monday, Churn-Philpott was one of more than 500 bus drivers from more than 30 Northeast Ohio school districts who gathered to get that kind of training at the Medina County Fairgrounds in Medina.
Mike Redfern, regional instructor for the Ohio In-Service School Bus Driver Training Program, told the bus drivers they probably won’t encounter any situations like this, but they should be prepared.
“If you’re going to take aggressive action, you need to know what you’re going to do ahead of time,” Redfern said.
Redfern commentated from the grandstand as hazardous situations were acted out by Medina police officers and firefighters, county sheriff’s deputies, state troopers and hazmat and SWAT members. Some bus drivers participated in the drills acting as students, but most of them watched from the stands.
Bus drivers need to be able to juggle protecting the children and avoiding liability issues, Redfern said. Allowing children to leave the bus in a situation may save their lives, but he said the bus driver may liable if one is injured.
Training scenarios included an active shooter, a hostage situation, a chemical spill on the bus route and a situation regarding missing buses.
“Fortunately, none of these situations happen often,” Redfern said. “But what we do is train you to think what you’d do so you’re prepared if it does happen.”
Medina County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Brooks — who played the role of the shooter and hostage-taker — said the best tip he could give is for bus drivers to evaluate the situation and improvise.
“There’s no flow chart,” Brooks said. “You need to think, ‘What do I do if.’ That’s what this is about.”
He said in many active shooter and hostage situations at schools, the gunman backs down as soon as someone stands up to him.
“You’ve got to decide what you’re willing to do and what you plan to do in those situations,” he told the bus drivers. “These, really, are life-or-death situations.”