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Coming together after the fire
Generous community support follows bus facility fire
Posted on 09/22/2016
Generous community support follows bus facility fire

The outpouring of support in the days following the devastating fire that caused the loss of 26 school buses has been heartwarming. The Puyallup community and the generous school districts throughout the state have helped us get through a significant event which had huge potential impact on our students.

It has also reminded us what can happen when friends and neighbors go out of their way to support one another during a time of need.

On August 24, 2016 the Puyallup School District Bus Maintenance Facility had a fire that destroyed 21 school buses and damaged five others. Many of the buses were recently purchased to increase efficiency and reduce transportation costs. The fire caused structural damage to the facility. Nearly 70 employees were evacuated immediately with all accounted for and no injuries.

We lost the capacity to transport more than 1,500 students that day — less than two weeks before school was scheduled to start.

We were able to begin school as scheduled on September 6 with a fleet of buses capable of maintaining current bus routes with no impact to students or families. This happened because other school districts came forward after the fire and loaned additional buses to Puyallup.

On that first day of school some students were picked up by buses with the words Kent, Northshore, North Thurston, Peninsula, Sedro Wooley, or Snoqualmie Valley school districts on the sides.

More than 23 districts from around the state came forward and offered to loan buses or other support to Puyallup.

While there aren’t enough words to show our gratitude to all of those who have reached out to us or provided assistance during this tragedy, we want to thank each and every one of you.

Superintendent Tim Yeomans said the start of school this year went very well. “In light of all that we have endured and the great work of the fire department to save our transportation facility, our kids are getting picked up and delivered without interruption.”

Chief Operations Officer Mario Casello recently looked back on the day of the fire and the planning and cleanup that has occurred since then. Today, the facility has been restored and is in full operation. Replacement buses have been ordered.

Casello credits the emergency responders, Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, Tacoma Fire Department, and the Puyallup Police Department for their quick reaction to prevent further damage. “We could have lost a lot more that day if it wasn’t for them and the quick response,” he said.

Work to restore the damage to the facility began as soon as possible after the fire. “When we started cleanup and restoration we immediately began getting phone calls and emails from other districts. People were so kind offering to help and letting us know they were just a phone call away,” said Casello.

Casello noted that Labor and Industries as well as the insurance companies responded quickly and efficiently to support the district. Contractors and electricians came forward to offer services.

“A huge thank you to all organizations that supported us. We are grateful to Labor and Industries, the contractors, and the insurance companies for acting fast to collaborate so restoration and cleanup could be done as quickly as possible,” said Casello.

Within the Puyallup community local clubs such as Kiwanis and Eagles reached out to offer help, including fund raising if needed.

Businesses within the community donated refreshments to support the staff and those cleaning up the damage. For example, Happy Donuts provided coffee and donuts, Three’s Coffee sent bagels, and Vista Vending donated water, juice, pop and snacks. Terry Bergeson, interim dean at Pacific Lutheran University sent flowers.

Staff and local PTAs reached out with offers to volunteer and provide materials. Tevyn Hickman, a Shaw Road Elementary second-grade student, met with Superintendent Yeomans and presented $1.60 to assist with costs.

Transportation Director Cathy McDaniel praised the bus drivers and staff as they prepared for the new school year. “We were significantly impacted by the loss of new buses. In spite of that loss every transportation staff member has been focused on carrying out their duties and making sure we were ready. They kept a positive attitude,” she said.

”It’s been almost seamless because of the generous support of other districts. We were able to get the right size bus on the right route so that our students and families saw no disruption to transportation services,” said McDaniel.

The transportation department has received gift baskets filled with treats from neighboring districts along with signed cards and posters to show support.

The companies who manufacture and sell the replacement buses reached out and offered to expedite the delivery schedule, and we expect to receive them in late December or early January.

“The amazing collaboration among so many people is truly what made this cleanup and restoration happen within 12 days, which is amazing,” said Casello.

Chief Financial Officer Corine Pennington gave an updated report to the School Board on September 6, the first day of school. “Because of the work of so many people, we have a success story from an event that could have been devastating,” she told the board.

 Thank you bus fire photo