School Bus Accidents

By Leigh T. Hollins

Since I first wrote about school bus extrication in the December 1997 and January 1998 issues of Fire Engineering Magazine, not much has changed concerning school buses themselves. School buses are built to federal, state, and local standards that have stayed mostly the same, which is that school buses must be designed and built tough enough to withstand significant impact while protecting our children inside the passenger compartment. This is accomplished through a design that uses heavier-than-normal vehicle construction techniques, a high-profile chassis, seating compartmentation, and various safety features.

Seat belts on school buses continue to be an issue nationwide, with laws that vary state by state and local decisions that may or may not require their use. With that said, our approach to the rescue and extrication side of responding to a school bus incident remains mostly the same as in the 1990’s.

Since the 1990’s, responder training and the equipment used has changed. The Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) and other regional and national conferences have greatly enhanced responders’ knowledge of heavy extrication. Just considering the FDIC conferences at which I have taught and the group with which I travel the U.S., we have instructed about 2,500 emergency responders in school bus rescue in the last 10 years. Couple that with the 2001 release of Fire Engineering‘s School Bus Extrication video (now available on DVD) and the number of responders nationwide with an enhanced knowledge of school bus rescue techniques probably climbs to between 3,500 and 4,000. That is a major difference–up to 4,000 emergency responders with a greater level of knowledge in school bus rescue and extrication. At FDIC 2007 we will continue the mission of preparing our nation’s emergency responders by offering a new hands-on training (H.O.T.) extrication program using cars and school buses and by offering a classroom session on school bus extrication on Wednesday, April 18. Please join us!

Here are a couple of “nuggets” for you to ponder:

Are you familiar with the term “Rescue Corridor”? You will need to know about it if you are moving patients off a school bus. A rescue corridor refers to the movement of rescuers and equipment in one way and the movement of patients out another way.

Unified Command? You bet…fire, EMS, law enforcement, and school district reps must all work together to mitigate a school bus incident, even a minor one.

Is your fire department prepared for this? School bus incidents require responders to be trained in heavy rescue, mass casualty incidents, and command and control. Only then will you have the knowledge to be successful when a school bus full of kids strikes something large or rolls over on its side.

How will you communicate with a school bus full of mentally disabled students? Use your resource wisely. In this case, the adult aide on the bus was the only one who understood the students. What if the aide was injured? Prepare now!

Accidents happen every day; some just have a greater “wow” factor. What if this bus, which was loaded with 55 elementary students, had rolled over on its side? Do you know what to do? Normal vehicle extrication skills and tools will not work.

A hybrid school bus?? That’s right, the first one in service in the nation. Are you keeping up with technology? These new hybrids have 1,300 pounds of lithium ion batteries on one side, offset by 1,300 pounds of steel counterweight on the opposite side. 1. Will this affect our operations? 2. Where is the high-voltage cable? 3. What color is the cable? 4. Where is the emergency shunt switch? Only up-to-date training will answer these questions. (Answers: 1. Yes, such factors as dealing with high voltage, stabilizing a bus that has rolled onto its roof with an extra 3,000 pounds as the new high center of gravity will alter your tactics. 2. Left side middle, under bus. 3. Orange 1″ cable. 4. Left side, under bus, at front of battery bank.

You must have “real world” experience…hopefully on the drillground first.

Leigh T. Hollins began his career in 1976 at Nottingham Fire Company in Hamilton Square, New Jersey, before relocating to Manatee County, Florida, in 1977. He currently serves as a battalion chief in the training division and is vice president and director of Starfire Training Systems, Inc.. Hollins is a Florida certified firefighter, EMT, fire inspector, fire officer and fire instructor. He has a college degree in fire science, is the author of numerous fire-related articles and produced Fire Engineering’s School Bus Extrication DVD. Hollins is a frequent instructor throughout the U.S. and at FDIC, the lead extrication instructor for FDIC’s Hands-On Training program and serves on FDIC’s educational executive committee, as well as being a member of Fire Engineering‘s editorial advisory board. Hollins is a founding member and current president of The Sun Coast chapter of F.O.O.L.S. International, a fraternal organization for firefighters.

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