School buses are among the safest ways for students to get to and from school, but the Blair Oaks R-2 district still makes it a point every year to remind student bus leaders how they can help respond to emergencies.
"Why you're here is the first response," Blair Oaks school resource officer Sgt. Ralph Lemongelli, of the Cole County Sheriff's Department, said Wednesday to approximately 40 students who have been designated by their bus drivers to serve as bus captains.
Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones said the district has student bus captains who not only represent the three Blair Oaks schools, but also St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Stanislaus and St. Francis Xavier Catholic grade schools.
Each bus — there are 12 that run in the mornings in the district and 15 in the afternoon — has three students assigned as captains, in case one or more of the three aren't on the bus during an emergency because of reasons like being involved in sports or other activities, Jones said.
Bus captains are charged with helping manage an emergency, which may include setting a bus' emergency brake, turning off the ignition, turning on emergency flashers and guiding fellow students off a bus to a safe area away from the roadway.
Lemongelli — who led the training with Missouri Highway Patrol Trooper Rick Dowd — said less than 1 percent of youth fatalities during school travel hours are on buses, which makes it a form of transportation much safer than the vehicles of students or their families.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely by taking a bus instead of a car.
Many school buses do not have seat belts, but the NHTSA notes not only do large school buses experience less crash force because of their size, but large school buses use "compartmentalization" as a safety feature that protects children without them needing to wear a seatbelt — through "strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs."
"It may not be a big car crash," Lemongelli said, though, of the types of emergencies that can develop on a bus. There might be a minor rear-end collision of the bus with a car or maybe an icy road that puts a bus in a ditch.
For the student bus captains present for Wednesday's safety training, the role could be preparation for being community leaders later, he added.
"Be role models in everything you do," Jones told the students.
Blair Oaks' buses are run by Durham School Services and D&K Bus and Charter Service LLC.