Pine Lake Middle School student lauded for handling bus emergency

July 2, 2013

By Neil Pierson

New: July 2, 1:17 p.m.

On the afternoon of June 11, Pine Lake Middle School student Ernie Yang nearly caught a ride a home with his mother, but his decision to ride the school bus turned out to be an important one.

Yang, 14, was on his way back to his Sammamish home with bus driver Adrienne Gelfer, with whom he’d been riding for three years. Gelfer made three stops, and most of the 70 students she carries got off.

Ernie Yang (at left) and his family stop for a photo. Photo by Neil Pierson

Ernie Yang (at left) and his family stop for a photo. Photo by Neil Pierson

Then Gelfer began coughing, and she couldn’t stop. The bus sat alongside the road at a regular stop, which may have caused the dozen or so children aboard to believe nothing was wrong.

Yang, an eighth-grader, wasn’t so sure. He walked up from his usual spot in the middle of the bus and asked Gelfer if she was OK. She said she was, and Yang returned to his seat.

But when a couple more minutes had passed and Gelfer was still coughing, Yang checked on her again. This time, the driver contacted a dispatcher and allowed Yang to explain what was happening: An asthma attack.

“We all respect each other on the bus, and they always help each other out when someone’s having a problem,” said Gelfer, who has been driving for the Issaquah School District since 2008. “He pretty much kept the bus under control and told everyone what was going on. I have 12th-graders on that bus, so I was amazed he stepped up to the plate.”

Yang said he spent a couple minutes on a two-way radio with a dispatcher. He explained Gelfer was having an asthma attack, her rescue inhaler wasn’t working, and she was trying to stay calm with breathing exercises.

Within a few more minutes, paramedics had arrived to treat Gelfer, and another bus had come to transport the remaining students home.

Gelfer, 60, has had asthma for 20 years but said she’s never had an attack while driving.

“I knew she had asthma,” Yang said, “but every time usually, she would pull over and use her inhaler and then she’d be fine. But then, this time, it wasn’t like that.”

Issaquah district students who ride the bus are trained at least twice a year in emergency evacuation procedures. The drills instruct students on using the radio, first-aid kits and fire extinguishers, signaling for help using reflector devices, and knowing where the exits and removable windows are.

For Yang, the procedures had become second-nature because he’d practiced repeatedly.

“I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got to use those skills now,’” he said.

Gelfer said it’s not the first time her riders have dealt with emergencies. She once evacuated a bus with a smoking engine. Another time, a girl dislocated her knee while riding. She also has many special-needs children to watch out for.

In fact, a special-needs student was on-board during her asthma attack, and Yang did a nice job of keeping him calm, Gelfer said. When she saw Yang again, she gave him a $25 Jamba Juice gift card as a thank-you gesture.

After they found out about his good deed, Yang’s friends also offered congratulations.

“Then they started making jokes like, ‘Hey, it’s the bus hero. Thank the Lord,’” he said with a laugh.

Yang is an avid sports fan, and he’s started practicing with the Skyline High School freshman football team. He plays competitive table tennis, and will be spending two months in China this summer to receive some world-class instruction.

He also plays the violin and is good with numbers, helping the Pine Lake math club to some strong finishes at various state competitions.

His parents, Raymond and Alice, said they weren’t surprised to learn of their son’s heroics.

“He never gets panicked and he stays cool,” Raymond Yang said. “It’s kind of natural for him.”

“I think the credit is supposed to go to the teachers and schools,” Alice Yang said, referring to the emergency training students receive. “We’re really fortunate and lucky to have this kind of education system.”

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