– It was 9:25 a.m. when the first yellow school bus loaded with students from Reading Memorial High School, approached the gate of the Camp Curtis Guild, here, Oct. 25, 2011, and stopped.
Spc. John Mazzeo, 272nd Chemical Company, Massachusetts Army National Guard, approached the driver and after a brief conversation directed the bus down the road to where another Soldier was waiting. Mazzeo would repeat this scene for the next 41 school busses that followed, as well as the police and fire vehicles that arrived.
The high school and the Rise Pre-School, located in an unused part of the building, were being evacuated.
“It’s the first time we done this kind of offsite evacuation,” said Elinor Freedman, principal, Reading Memorial High School, as she watched the high school students file towards the camp’s helipad. The pre-schoolers were led into awaiting classrooms with their teachers.
Once the entire student body had gathered in their assigned areas, the staff and faculty began to take attendance as the Soldiers, police and fireman watched nearby.
“It’s a safety practice for us,” said Freedman, “It’s important to have some procedures in place, so we would know what to do.”
This had been an exercise by the school system to actually see how their evacuation plan would function if it was ever needed.
“It’s been going very well, the kids have been very cooperative, it did not take us very long to exit our building,” said Freedman, “It’s no small feat to evacuate a school … we have over 1400 people.”
According to Freedman, today’s drill was in response to an “environmental event” (i.e. a hazardous substance event, gas leak, an industrial accident …) that would necessitate evacuating the school complex.
All those people would need a safe place to go to, one that could accommodate a large number of busses and people.
“We have an area large enough where we can put the busses,” said Sgt. First Class John Dankeivitch, operations non-commissioned officer, 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (Rear Detachment), “It’s a safe location.”
Besides the ability to park the school busses, the camp also has the facilities to accommodate a large amount of people inside some of the building on post.
“This is perfect,” said Victoria Griffin, early childhood coordinator, Reading Public Schools, “the kids love to see the jeeps.”
Approximately one hour after they arrived, the exercise was over.
“We’re taking notes for things we might do differently next time,” said Freedman, “there hasn’t been anything major … except for a couple of our busses taking a left instead of a right on the way here.”
As they boarded the busses to head back to school, the pre-schoolers waved good-bye to the Soldiers, who waved back.