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Emergency drill offers realistic training to first responders

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A school bus crashes into several cars, sending first responders in South Haven rushing to the scene.

It was all part of a simulation. Newschannel 3's Aaron Dimick was there, capturing the all-too-real scenario.

A tangled mess of cars, semi-trucks, a school bus and bodies. A fire burning, just feet from where a propane tanker is leaking. More than 20 people injured and five dead. Kids, trapped in a school bus. People screaming, "Help me, I can't get out!" coupled with the sound of shattering glass.

The South haven community came together to help with this drill, which has been months in the making.

"We're simulating an incident that could happen on our interstate or even on one of our back roads," says South Haven Area Emergency Services Chief Ronald Wise. "A foggy morning where vehicles can't see there is a pileup and can keep piling into each other, from a snow storm to an ice storm."

Wise says this is more than just a big pile of metal. First responders from South Haven and Bangor learned how to prioritize multiple victims.

"We have to make that hard decision in the field, to say they don't get transported because I have to save four other people instead of maybe trying to save this one," Wise says.

They also have to deal with emotional bystanders.

Firefighters say a scenario like this isn't that far-fetched, and they've actually gone out on similar emergencies.

Wise says, "Last year, we had a head-on crash and we had six victims. We had all the ambulances off the scene within 35 minutes. It's because our staff trained,"

Responders also coordinated with local hospitals and West Michigan Air Care to get the full experience.

After the scene is cleared, they will have a meeting to see what they've learned. Wise explains it to discuss "what went right and what went wrong, and we do know they were going to feel that they were overwhelmed and for us to let them now that's OK."