By Jayme Ackemann, @JaymeAckemann
By day SamTrans is a mild-mannered Peninsula transit agency but by night – and sometimes day too – our employees quietly perform acts of heroism in our community. The people of SamTrans aren’t exactly leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but they regularly reach out a helping hand to provide aid and comfort during emergencies.
In November, North Base Mechanic Earl Newton was in his car, headed to work when he saw a tour bus broken down on Highway 101 near SFO. The bus appeared to be on fire so the passengers had exited the bus and were standing on the narrow shoulder of the busy freeway, waiting for another vehicle to pick them up. Newton worried that it was a tragedy waiting to happen and advised Bus Transportation Supervisor Kris Longa and Utilities Supervisor Adrian Gutierrez of the situation unfolding on 101.
Longa, Gutierrez and Bus Operator Antonio Macalino then mobilized a SamTrans bus and sped to the scene. Police and fire personnel gratefully accepted their offer to load up the passengers and take them to a safe location. The passengers and their luggage were loaded onto the bus and taken to a nearby Holiday Inn where they could safely wait for a new vehicle. The entire event took about 45 minutes to secure the passengers and drop them at the hotel.
“It was a quick and, relatively, easy thing to do to help these people out,” said Kris Longa, North Base Bus Transportation Supervisor. “But we were glad to do it. Highway 101 is a dangerous place for 40 people to be out on the roadway, waiting for a pick up.”
Earlier this year, SamTrans South Base operators were called into duty twice to respond to two separate Redwood City fires requiring residents be evacuated to shelters. It’s one of the services our system is here to provide, and one we are frequently provide without fanfare or undue attention.
The SamTrans Operations Team received a commendation from San Mateo County’s Board of Supervisors for supporting the victims of the HallMark House and Oakside Drive fires.
“SamTrans is to be commended for your immediate and generous response and for going above and beyond the call of duty to save and support these victims,” Board President Don Horsley stated in his letter commendation.
The Oakside Drive apartment complex fire destroyed the building and two residents sustained minor injuries. . More than 70 people were displaced by the Hallmark House apartment fire. The 6-alarm fire destroyed but no one was injured. The cause of both devastating fires remains under investigation.
Asiana Plane Crash
In July, SamTrans North Base Bus Operators noticed something frightening seemed to be happening at SFO. The North Base Facility looks out over SFO’s runways and planes can regularly be seen taking off and landing. It was just a short time later when the call came from Airport Administration requesting mutual aid assistance to transport injured passengers to area hospitals as a result of the Asiana Jetliner crash.
SamTrans responded with two buses and operators, Ben Samonte and Arthur Sholl, who stood by for much of the day waiting to assist emergency responders. The operators helped move emergency personnel around the airport and transport crash victims to Stanford Hospital.
Among the SamTrans Operations personnel, it is just one more example of “The SamTrans Way.”
“I’m extremely proud to be part of a team that is so willing to step in at a moment’s notice,” said Longa. “It feels really good to be able to provide a small amount of comfort to someone who’s just gone through something tragic like a plane crash or the loss of their home.”
SamTrans also provides mutual aid to other transit systems. When Caltrain experiences a major event that shuts down the system such as a fatality or mechanical breakdown, SamTrans buses are often called upon to provide a bridge to help keep rail customers moving. SamTrans also provided extra service to help offset the loss of BART service during the recent strike.
No cape. No parades. No superheroes. Just the men and women of SamTrans, serving the community in every way we can.