Curmudgeon Corner - Where do we get such men?

Charles A. Poland, 66, will live in the hearts of his loved ones forever, and in the public’s mind he will be remembered as the hero who died attempting to protect the children in his charge.

Charles Poland was a school bus driver.

Across this great land of ours we call America, thousands of men and women go to their local school bus barn at ungodly early morning hours to get their bus ready for the day’s run. The “run” being the picking up of children, some high school students, some middle school students, some elementary. All of whom must arrive at their various school at the appointed time.

Most of you outside of being a school bus driver may not know the majority of drivers are over sixty years old. They are a mix of dedicated men and women who call the children who ride their bus, “their children.” Charles Poland was one of these people. In our school district, school bus drivers are held to a higher standard of driving.

Our state laws clearly define what is expected in the training of each driver and what is expected in the maintenance of each bus. Our buses are inspected before the beginning of each school year by a special task force of state troopers. They review each bus record, inspect each bus, and if the bus is qualified it gets an actual seal of approval pasted on its front windshield.

The school bus drivers in our state have to pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) mandated physical before beginning to drive and then have a DOT physical every other year, or every year if the blood pressure gets a bit too high.

Every candidate has a training period of several weeks, which they pay out of their pocket a handsome sum of $400. It’s non-refundable. They are trained in the handling of both the large school buses and the short. Some have wheel chair lifts, which the driver must be able to operate safely out on the public roads. It’s not a fun thing to do with impatient drivers who are many times demeaning and rude.

All the candidates have classroom instruction on the rules of the road, bus handling and safety, and first-aid. One must always have a first-aid card and be skilled in CPR. I don’t really know what Alabama requires of their drivers but I am sure that Mr. Poland was current and on top of his requisites—he would do it for no other reason than the safety of “his children.”

The safety of our passengers, “our children,” is the common bond of all school bus drivers throughout our country. When I report to my local school bus barn, I now recognize the shadow of “Chuck” Poland in the behavior of each of our school bus drivers. There is quiet, friendly bantering, joking, a pat on the back, and words of encouragement for a “safe run.”

Many drivers arrive early to enjoy a cup of “Joe” with each other and to talk about “their children.” They plan their day’s run, ask each other for advice, and, yes, gripe about the conduct of some children. But in the end, we all leave to inspect our buses, try out some of the advice given by fellow drivers, and board “our kids” for a safe ride to their respective schools.

Charles A. Poland, in this respect, was a typical school bus driver, helpful to all and devoted to “his children.”

One does not know what one will do when confronted with a dangerous situation, especially the one “Chuck” Poland confronted. He challenged a deranged man with a gun and as a result saved twenty-one of his students. Poland, a quiet man, a Christian man, a decent man, paid with his life.

In trying to understand and reconcile this tragedy, I am reminded of the famous quote about heroes from the James Michener’s novella, The Bridges at Toko-Ri,--“Where do we get such men?”

(Larry Momo writes columns for the Washington Times Community Section and the San Pedro News Pilot.)

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