By John Lauritsen

By John Lauritsen, WCCO-TV

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DANUBE, Minn. (WCCO) — A school bus crash, a chemical spill, and a helicopter evacuation. They were all part of a “first of its kind” mock drill that took place in Renville County Wednesday night.

The purpose was to bring emergency crews together to respond to what could become real-life scenarios.

A farm vehicle carrying anhydrous ammonia collided with a school bus carrying 10 students, some in car seats and none of them can speak English.

“It’s a good example of where we need to improve. Communication is always an issue. Communication between emergency responders and the communication that comes with the language barrier,” said Mike Hennen, Renville County Emergency Management coordinator.

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Eighty-five emergency responders from 11 departments took part in this unique drill. The anhydrous ammonia represents farm chemicals used throughout Renville County.

The dolls in the bus represent the growing number of Spanish-speaking children who live in the area. Each of the dolls involved in this crash had something written on them in Spanish, and it was up to firefighters to figure out what is wrong with each student.

“A responder looks at that and doesn’t know what it means. They know to find a translator to find out what they are talking about,” said Hennen.

Responders also have to decide who needs an emergency evacuation on a North Memorial helicopter, how to treat those who were exposed to chemicals and how to handle a car that has also caught fire.

It took six months to plan a drill that could some day become a real-life situation.

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“Hopefully we can learn something from this event and if something happens, we are prepared,” said Alyson Helgeson of the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council and Migrant Head Start.

John Lauritsen