School bus safety is very important in many aspects as various cases are reported every day on different types of accidents where students get injured or even killed.The situation is alarming and that is why school districts are coming up with good strategies and plan to assure utmost school bus safety. Out of the various school bus safety issues, school bus fire are on the rise. Even when many such issues happened when students were not on board, the case may not be the same every time.
The common causes behind a school bus fire as per reports include:
- Wires loosen or rub against engine parts
- Exploding of tires
- Release of inflammatory fluids due to leaks
- Turbocharger, engine, and mechanical failures
- Old parts lose their reliability
- Overloaded circuit boards
Serious preventive measures must be taken from the side of school authorities, bus drivers, maintenance staff and students in order to minimize the possible accidents.
Failure of a bus component or collision can result in bus fire that not only risks the lives of students but also causes serious impacts on operational costs.
Here are a few of the important precautionary measures that are to be considered to prevent the school bus fire or lower its deadly impact.
1. Better Choose Front Engine Buses
If you examine the bus fire accidents closely, you can figure out that most of the fire mishaps happened with buses running on rear engines.
So if you can switch to front engine buses, it will be a plus in addition to other fire preventive measures.
To be clearer, even if the fire occurs, it happens far away from students and driver which gives some extra time to escape from the situation.
If you are already running buses with rear engines, suddenly changing it to front-engine models may not be feasible for schools with budget constraints.
However, keep this in mind and when it is time to upgrade the fleet of buses, choose to have front-engine models.
2. Always Have Fire Extinguishers Onboard
This is one of the basic safety measures to be followed before riding a school bus. Unlike other vehicles, we should be extra safe as kids may go panic when something unexpected happens.
It is always better to keep fire extinguishers on both front ends as well as the rear end of the school buses.
Moreover, make sure they are working properly. To ensure the same, keep a check on its operational dates on a regular basis.
And never hesitate to replace it with a new one if it is too old to be dependable.
3. Replace Aging Buses
There is no doubt that a bus that is used for many years will have its wear and tear.
The adverse weather conditions and the road conditions can add to the damage.
On a closer look, you can say that fire accident can also occur due to poor conditions of the old buses.
Failure of equipment is one of the main reasons for fire and the possibility for the same can be more in old buses.
So school districts and management should work in coordination to see that old buses are replaced with new buses on time.
Moreover, lease programs are being introduced to help schools to make use of the new school buses without the need of paying the whole sum upfront.
4. Visually Inspect Buses Beforehand
Drivers should be given proper instructions to perform a visual inspection of the buses before they start a drive.
This is very important when it comes to preventing possible fires. In case there is a leak in the flammable fluids, drivers can very well identify it in the morning.
This can avoid a possible school bus fire which might risks the lives of students.
If you go through the previous fire accident cases, it is understandable that most of the mishaps happened due to minor ignorance from the bus staff which could have been avoided.
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5. Perform a Smell Test
In addition to the visual inspection of the bus, it is important for drivers and bus staff to follow their noses.
This simply means that they should be instructed to perform a smell test before the drive.
Shorted electronics or leaked fluids are among the potential reasons for the onboard school bus fire
In both of cases, there will be a strong burning smell beforehand and drivers can identify the same through a smell test.
These are serious warning signs which should never be ignored. A well-trained driver can identify that something is combusting under the hood which is not supposed to be.
6. Timely Inspection and Maintenance
When it comes to school bus fire prevention, the best thing you can do is to perform the timely inspection and maintenance.
A complete review of the bus fleet needs to be done under the guidance of field experts and do the necessary to assure the fully-fledged running condition of the buses.
The school authorities should oversee that inspection and maintenance procedures are done without fail and collect the reports for records.
If you plan to do the inspection about 6 times a year, don’t hesitate to make it 8 or 10 times for the old buses or the buses that often show some kind of issues.
7. Install Fire Suppression Systems
It may not be practical for schools to use fire suppression systems in all of their buses as it is a bit expensive.
However, there should be a serious consideration to use it at least for the special needs buses.
Students with special needs, especially those using a wheelchair may not be able to move fast when there is a fire on the bus.
A fire extinguisher will have its limits in many fires as it spreads too fast then you can imagine and students with special needs will be the most vulnerable.
An automatic fire suppression system can detect and suppress the fire automatically before it spreads that can save the situation.
8. Keep Away from Flammable Materials
As kids will be the main passengers of a school bus, extra safety needs to be taken on all grounds.
Strict instructions have to be made on the materials that can be used on the bus.
The main point is to keep away from any form of flammable material as you never know how kids handle it.
It is also a good decision to avoid using stuff like lighters and matches which can trigger fire on unexpected occasions.
Moreover, constant vigilance has to be maintained when it comes to updating school bus safety standards and procedures.
9. Perform School Bus Evacuation Drills
Even when all the safety measures are taken, unexpected incidents can occur anytime.
So drivers and support staff should be well trained to act smartly in case of a school bus fire.
The utmost important thing is to evacuate every single student in the bus in the least possible time without fail.
Rather than taking theory classes, performing evacuation drills is the easiest way for students and bus staff to learn and handle the situation.
The key factors that are learned in the evacuation drills include:
- Type of evacuations (roof, front & rear door and side window)
- How to open the emergency exits?
- How to evacuate in an orderly and calm manner?
- How to operate emergency equipment?
- Designating older students to help younger ones
- What is the next thing to do after evacuation?
10. Prepare Bus for Emergency Situations
It should be made mandatory that bus drivers and staff take extra care to assure the readiness of the school bus to handle emergency situations.
Before every ride, they should oversee these factors and there is no room for ignorance.
In addition to checking for leaks, drivers should see that all the emergency equipment and facilities of the bus are in a condition to work abruptly.
Make sure that the emergency equipment is close to the driver and see that all exit doors are working properly.
Almost 379 school bus fire has been reported on an annual basis as per reports from the US government.
Even when all safety measures are met, unexpected fires can happen anytime due to even a small carelessness.
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Once the fire has happened, the presence of mind to handle it with minimal damage is important.
That is the reason why school bus drivers and support staff has to be given top class training on handling such situations.
Instead of panicking, drivers should first of all stop the bus in a safer place that is possible in the situation. They should then calmly call the bus dispatch number and vacate the bus while using the fire extinguisher.
Once a mishap has occurred, we should make sure that the fire inspectors need to take a look at the surveillance videos and closely analyze the recent maintenance work that is done on the bus to understand the reason that caused the fire. This is very important to take the necessary measures to avoid such accidents in the future.