Dispatch recordings give timeline of chaotic RIPTA bus crash

WPRI/Perry Russom

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Police and fire radio recordings show first responders were on the scene of Monday night’s RIPTA bus crash within two minutes from when they were dispatched.

A fire department dispatch operator sounded the alarm Monday at 7:11 p.m.

“Rescue One, Rescue Three, Special Hazard, Engine Two, Ladder Two: 1190 Post Road for a RIPTA bus into a building,” according to the recording. “Unknown how many people are on board.”

A police officer arrived on scene first telling dispatch “it looks like there are a couple of people stuck on the bus.”

Moments later, the recording shows the first firefighters pulled up, informing dispatch that a “RIPTA bus is fully inside the building.”

Warwick Assistant Fire Chief David Morse heard the call on the radio while at home and immediately responded. When he first arrived he said his reaction was, “oh my God.”

Photos: Aftermath of RIPTA bus crash into Warwick businesses »
Photos: Aftermath of RIPTA bus crash into Warwick businesses »

“You’ve got a building compromised with possible collapse,” Morse said. “You’ve got two people trapped inside, and you know you have your men working inside the collapse zone.”

Within seven minutes of the initial call, a “priority message” is sent from the scene over the radio by Capt. Gary Oatley.

“We have a compromised building here, we have three patients – all alive – two trapped, one unconscious in the bus,” Oatley said on the recordings. “We are working on extrication; we are going to need another heavy rescue here for stabilization of the building.”

Morse said priority messages are important for everyone responding and for dispatch to know what is happening back at the scene.

“That’s to get everybody to quiet down because what he’s about to say is significant,” Morse said. “It’s a game-changer.”

Morse said one major challenge to firefighters was the bus driver told him he had three passengers on the bus, but they could only find two.

The Providence Fire Department sent a special truck equipped with gear to help support the unstable building and a heat-detecting camera to look for the other passenger. It wasn’t until RIPTA officials reviewed dashboard video that they realized the mystery passenger had simply walked off the bus after the crash and left the scene.

But before that happened – and with the three victims they could see and unknown others that could be in the building – the commanding officer on the scene called a “mass casualty incident” (MCI) at 7:21 p.m.

“Command to fire alarm, we’re going to declare an MCI,” Oatley said on the recording. “Notify Rhode Island Hospital, please.”

The audio recordings were provided by website “Broadcastify” and authenticated by the Warwick Fire Deptartment.

At 7:32 p.m. the first victim – a passenger from the bus – was transported to Rhode Island Hospital, arriving at the emergency room within eight minutes.

“We are still in the process of extricating two victims, we transported one” a fire official informed dispatch according to the recording. “You can leave two rescues for the victims, one rescue for the crews on scene and release any other rescues you have for now.”

It took much longer to extricate the next victim, the bus driver. He was placed in an ambulance and transported to the hospital at 8:19 p.m., dispatch is told at that moment “we have one extricated, one to go.”

The final victim was sent to the hospital six minutes later.

According to recordings and fire department records, it was a total of one hour and 14 minutes from when the call came into dispatch to when the final victim was removed and transported.

Morse said Warwick sent all four of its rescue trucks and West Warwick and Cranston sent two others. Providence Fire Deptartment also sent a special hazard truck and Cranston sent a “heavy rescue.” Both apparatus had gear to help hold up the building’s structure while firefighters worked to remove the victims.

It remains under investigation as to what caused the crash.

Police identified the bus driver as Richard Avedisian (unrelated to Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, who is also the chairman of RIPTA). He along with a passenger, identified as Kyle Adams, was transported to Rhode Island Hospital with serious injuries. As of Tuesday afternoon, police said both were still in critical condition.

A second passenger, 39-year-old Paulino Cortez, was treated for minor injuries at the hospital and released. Police later interviewed the third passenger and determined he was not injured in the crash.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

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