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SPECIAL REPORT


Preparing for School Bus Fires with Special Care


Written By Julie Metea S


chool bus fires occur daily across the U.S., according to the latest government data. Assuming a fire can ignite


in even the most well-equipped and maintained bus, the school transportation industry is stepping up its efforts to better protect riders through investments in safety pro- grams and fire suppression products. The motivation for increased safe- ty measures occasionally stems from high-profile incidents. The Houston Independent School


District district encountered a close call on Jan. 29, when a school bus caught fire while on a route. A stu- dent passenger in a wheelchair and three support staff were riding in the bus at the time. The bus driver, attendant and


nurse had to lower the ramp to remove the student from the bus, which added time to the evacuation. No one was hurt, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation. While HISD administrators assured


18 School Transportation News • MARCH 2020


the public through its website that “student safety and well-being are always a top priority,” the close call will undoubtedly remain in the forefront of future safety planning in Texas and beyond. School bus fires are nothing new. They have caused anxiety, debate and frustration industry-wide for decades. The issue is especially precarious for special needs routes, like the one in Houston, where transportation staff require additional time to evacuate students who may have many physi- cal and cognitive disabilities. Despite a number of fire suppres-


sion solutions on the market—which are not to be confused with fire extinguishers that are required for the school bus cabin—adding requirements have become a top priority within the industry. That trend follows a tragic December 2017 school bus fire that took the lives of a 16-year-old student and elderly driver in Oakland, Iowa. In that incident, the National


Transportation Safety Board con- cluded that the driver and student would have had extra time to evacuate, if the school bus had been equipped with a suppression system in the engine compartment, where the fire started. According to NTSB investiga-


tors, the two victims were unable to escape the fumes and flames. The situation was exacerbated by the driver’s inability to move, due to a chronic back injury, for which he was scheduled to undergo surgery the following week. In response to the incident, the NTSB adopted new recommenda- tions last June that included a call to require fire suppression systems in all new school buses, as well as ret- rofit all of the buses that are already in use. The agency also urged the industry to develop a standard to improve the construction of fire- walls between the school bus engine and passenger compartments, and it called for the implementation of


PHOTOS COURTESY OF FOGMAKER NORTH AMERICA


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