May 2, 2013

Sidney school bus driver saves child's life

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SIDNEY -- Early Tuesday morning, when a fifth-grade girl called out from the crowd of 35 children aboard his school bus, driver Nathan Philbrick thought the girl might be about to share a frivolous thought or to make a minor complaint.

click image to enlarge

A NICE MANEUVER : On Tuesday, bus driver Nathan Philbrick of Sidney saved a boy by administering the Heimlich maneuver. The boy had choked on some candy and stopped breathing. Philbrick's quick action saved the boy's life.

Photo by Jeff Pouland

When he looked at her face in the mirror, however, he could tell it was something far more serious.

Still, he had no idea he was about to use his Heimlich maneuver training to save the life of a child who was choking.

The girl pointed to a little boy who was sitting across the aisle from her.

Seconds before, the two children had boarded the bus together from a day care site at the top of Reynolds Hill.

Now, before the bus had even reached the bottom of the hill, the boy had his hands at his own throat and was crying without sound, tears on his cheeks and unable to breathe, Philbrick said.

Philbrick stopped the bus.

Before that moment, it seemed like an ordinary day to Philbrick, a 47-year-old farmer from Sidney. He got out of bed about 4:30 in the morning, took care of his animals and drank some coffee before saying goodbye to his wife, Angela, who also drives a school bus for the district. Each spouse got behind the wheel of one of the two buses parked in their driveway on Shepherd Road, and they headed off in opposite directions for what they thought would be a typical morning of picking up children, still quiet and groggy from the previous night's sleep.

The Philbricks are two of about 50 bus drivers who take children every day to and from the district's schools in Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney, a complicated daily operation overseen by the district's transportation director, Lennie Goff.

Goff said that in his 26 years with the transportation department, he's never known a bus driver to be caught in the kind of crisis that Philbrick faced Tuesday.

Despite that, Goff said, he has always been insistent that his drivers be trained to respond in a crisis. Every two years, all drivers dutifully attend a safety training course, during which they learn how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first-aid procedures and the Heimlich maneuver, which involves standing behind a choking person and reaching around them to apply abdominal thrusts.

Goff said some of the drivers, Philbrick included, have been reluctant to complete the training; but that each one goes through the program, during which they practice the maneuver on a series of lifelike dummies, built to duplicate the varying sizes of school-age children.

Philbrick, 47, remembers that when he last took the training a year ago, he practiced on a dummy that was about the same size as the boy, who Philbrick thinks is in first grade.

On Tuesday morning, he said, he didn't think about his training, which he had completed six or seven times during his 14 years with the district.

Instead, he said, he went on autopilot.

Without conscious thought, he said, he grabbed the young boy from his seat and administered the Heimlich maneuver. Almost immediately, a small round butterscotch candy shot out of the boy's mouth and flew six or eight feet down the bus aisle.

When the boy began to cry, audibly and loudly, Philbrick said he knew that the crisis, which had begun just moments before, was over.

Philbrick credits the district's training with giving him the right technique. Without the training, he said, he would have tried to do something, but he wouldn't have known how to do it properly.

With the tearful boy seated beside him at the front of the bus, Philbrick completed the two remaining stops on his run, then handed the boy, who reportedly suffered no injuries, off to the school principal.

(Continued on page 2)

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