KINGDOM CITY — School bus drivers from six area districts gathered Monday in Kingdom City to watch a school bus go up in flames.
The demonstration provided a timely lesson in the importance of proper evacuation training. This week is National Bus Safety Week, and the training at the North Callaway Transportation Facility provide participants with useful information on how to make students' daily ride to and from school as safe as possible. Participating districts included North Callaway, South Callaway, Fulton, Mexico, Hallsville and Harrisburg.
"It's our first year hosting something like that," said Doug Kee, North Callaway R-1's transportation director and the event's organizer. "Our National Association for Pupil Transportation conducted similar training at the national conference in Kansas City last fall, and it got me thinking I should do something like this on local level."
He invited transportation directors and drivers from the surrounding districts, drawing a crowd of 60-80.
"Myself and other local directors work closely together," he said. "That's why we invited these other local school-owned transportation departments, because it's good to work together."
Participants started by practicing rapid evacuation techniques.
"We had volunteers that got onto a bus and then conducted a bus evacuation, similar to what they'd do in the event of an emergency," Kee said. "We timed them to see how long it'd take to get a full bus completely empty."
He covered the windows in one bus with black plastic to simulate a low-visibility scenario — one involving smoke or taking place at night, for example. Afterwards, the participants discussed how long it took and also talked about potential complicating factors, such as a scared child who won't move. Bus drivers practice evacuation with their student passengers, too, Kee said.
Next, supervised by the North Callaway Fire Protection District and a couple people from the Fulton Fire Department, the group set a bus on fire.
"We were timing the bus, basically seeing at one point did we see this, where did we notice this — analyzing just how quickly that bus would fill with smoke," Kee said. "Hopefully drivers will take that information back, and in their training at their home school, they'll apply what they learned here."
It took about 14 minutes for the bus to become completely engulfed in flames, Kee said. Strong breezes Monday morning may have sped the process along. However, that doesn't mean drivers can take their time evacuating children in the event of a fire.
"From the time we opened the back door, simulating an evacuation, the entire bus was filled with smoke in 30 seconds," Kee said. "It's not 14 minutes to get off bus. In the right conditions, things can move rapidly. That's why we want our drivers to be thinking about this and talking with their kids."
Kee emphasized that statistically, school buses are the safest way to transport students. Buses are inspected annually. The district has never had a bus fire involving students, though a bus did catch ablaze at the transportation facility in October 2017.
"I don't want parents thinking buses are unsafe," Kee said.
The National Association for Pupil Transportation hosts the bus safety awareness week annually. Here are a few general bus safety tips from the NAPT.
When prepping for school in the morning, encourage children to wear high-visibility clothing, such as bright colors. Make sure to pack everything in a backpack or bag so your child won't drop something while climbing onto or off of the bus.
Make sure children leave home on time so they can arrive at the bus stop before it is due, ideally at least five minutes early. Running after or in front of a bus is dangerous.
Make sure children walk to the bus stop in groups for visibility. Children should stay on the sidewalk or shoulder or, if necessary, walk single-file on the street, facing traffic. Regularly demonstrate looking both ways before crossing the street.
Remind children to look to the right before stepping off the bus.
Tell your children if they drop something getting on and off the bus, they should never pick it up. Instead, they should tell the driver and follow the driver's instructions.
Wait for your child on the same side of the road where they'll be dropped off, to discourage them from getting too excited and running across the road.