By Paul Hemmer
FERNDALE May 25, 2004 A charter busload of around 50 teenage girls heading home to Monsey from a weekend retreat ended up having the ride of their lives Sunday.
Enroute home from Camp Gila on Route 55 in Ferndale, their bus ended up on its side in the brook at the bottom of Ferndale/Loomis Road, where it intersects with County Route 71.
Liberty firefighters and the Town of Liberty Volunteer Ambulance Corps were first dispatched to the scene around 6 a.m. Liberty FD Chief William Rube Smith, along with two State Police units out of the Liberty barracks, were the first to arrive with additional assistance from the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department and Village of Liberty Police arriving soon after.
According to officials, the driver of the bus, apparently unfamiliar with the road and the stop sign at the bottom of a steep hill, drove through the intersection and across the county road before crashing through the guardrails and riding along the top of a Town of Liberty water supply line that crosses the Middle Mongaup River.
As the bus crossed the water main, it toppled over on its right side into the water below, causing the occupants to suffer serious to minor injuries. No one was killed.
According to Sullivan County Fire Coordinator Dick Martinkovic, the crash could have been much worse.
When the bus rode over the top of the water main, it prevented it from plunging head-on at full speed into the creek, which would have caused a far worse crash with possible fatalities, he said.
Finding the bus in the brook with 49 passengers inside, Chief Smith wasted little time getting the rescue operation underway. Liberty firefighters, Liberty EMS personnel and the various law enforcement officers on the scene undertook the rescue operations with assistance from Battalion Coordinator Tom Totten.
After taking command of patient assessment and transportation and faced with the large number of victims who needed care, Liberty Ambulance Corps needed additional resources. Martinkovic assisted Senior Medical Officer/Paramedic Barry Cooperstein in coordinating additional ambulance responses and patient transportation destinations while rigs and crews from Bethel, Jeffersonville, Livingston Manor, MobileMedic, Monticello, Neversink, Rock Hill, Roscoe/Rockland, Woodbourne and Hatzolah Catskill Division and Hatzolah-Kiryas Joel Orange County Division arrived to assist.
Patient injuries ranged from scrapes, bumps and bruises to several more serious injuries, none of which were reported to be life-threatening.
Martinkovic stated that the efforts at the scene unfolded smoothly.
We had firefighters who were available and qualified to assist with driving ambulances so that EMTs and paramedics could stay at the scene and provide triage and patient care, he said. Thirty-four patients were transported to Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris by the various ambulances assisting at the scene, while Gershowitz Bus Company provided transportation with one of their buses for 12 of the less seriously injured patients that were transported to Catskill Regional Medical Center in Callicoon. . . . Several others were transported to the Arden Hill Campus of Orange Regional Medical Center.
According to Martinkovic, two of the more seriously injured girls were later transported separately from Harris to University Hospital in Hackensack, NJ and Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. The exact extent of their injuries, while serious, was not known.
As the rescues continued, units from the State Police Accident Reconstruction Team arrived to assess the cause of the crash around 8:30 a.m., followed by a unit from the Environmental Conservation Police who monitored possible diesel fuel leakage from the bus as it lay in the brook.
Water service for the Ferndale Water District was temporarily interrupted as a result of the bus impact with the water supply line that traversed the stream, but Town of Liberty Water Department personnel quickly restored service by temporarily rerouting water to the area.
When asked of his assessment of the incident, Fire Coordinator Martinkovic said, I was extremely pleased with the way that fire, police, and EMS were able to quickly organize the rescue effort and work under unified command.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation, and the driver, 23-year-old Joel Fisher of Excellent Bus Service in Brooklyn, was charged with speed not reasonable and prudent, with additional charges pending. He was released to appear in Town of Liberty Court at an unspecified date.