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December 14, 2007
Poor communications cited in school bus strandings
PROVIDENCE -- Many city schoolchildren were stuck on school buses for several hours during last night's storm, and city officials today are being asked why.
Mayor David N. Cicilline this morning gave Police Chief Dean Esserman and Chief of Administration John Simmons a week to conduct a review of the circumstances.
Schools Supt. Donnie Evans said today that part of the problem may have come from problems with the school department’s internal communication.
“We need better internal communications in terms of where the buses are and how many kids are on them. Once the kids got on buses, and got in traffic, communication became a challenge,” Evans said.
Chief Esserman told a Journal reporter today that he was first called just after 8:30 p.m. about the stranded students. He had heard sporadic reports from officers patrolling the city about stranded buses, but did not realize that there was a system-wide problem at hand.
“I don’t know why I wasn’t called earlier,” Esserman said. “I don’t know the answer to that. I’d like to know why I wasn’t called earlier.”
Police officers in four-wheel drive vehicles were immediately dispatched to the bus locations, and pulled children off and took them to their homes.
“We pulled every 4WD vehicle we had, and we literally started going to every location and pulling off kids,” Esserman said.
Just before 8 p.m., 60 out of the 152 Providence school buses were still on the road trying to drop off youngsters, according to Christina O'Reilly, spokeswoman for the Providence school district
Most children were home just before 11 p.m., but 9 children were stuck at the bus depot after the buses could not reach anyone at their homes. Police took this final group home around 9 p.m.
-- Journal staff writer Daniel Barbarisi
About three dozen adults were also stranded last night on Rhode Island Public Transit Agency's buses at Kennedy Plaza, and police fed them and took them to their homes as well.
Fire Chief George Farrell said that firefighters received an emergency call to help a bus full of special needs students stranded in the Valley neighborhood. The students had been stuck for hours, and needed their medications. But because of the traffic, with cars clogging every street through Smith Hill and the Valley, the rescue couldn’t get close.
The rescue driver left the streets and cut into the American Locomotive Mill Complex, and the firefighters then ran on foot to the bus, evacuated the children, and rushed them to Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Farrell said that the backup was worst in the Smith Hill, Federal Hill, and Valley neighborhoods, all of which are close to Route 6, which was clogged late into the night.
Esserman said that the tow trucks were towing cars constantly, but that the towing lots were full before long, contributing to the backup.
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