Protecting PupilS the Classroom

Protecting PupilS the Classroom

California community trains drivers to meet school bus emergencies

DESPITE the great emphasis being placed upon safety in schools today, it may be surprising to learn how little is being done in the way of fire drills and evacuation procedures for school buses. This fact was brought out during a general discussion on fire extinguishers with the director of maintenance and operations of the Arcadia, Calif., Unified School District. The 18 bus drivers for the school district had received no training in the use of the extinguishers with which their buses were equipped. Further investigation revealed they had little or no knowledge of what should or should not be done in the event of an emergency.

Information concerning the evacuation of classrooms and school buildings is plentiful, but little has been devoted to emergency procedures for the buses. At a meeting of the safety review board of the school district, this problem was discussed. It was decided to formulate a program which would cover all phases of bus safety, evacuation procedures, fire fighting instructions and general information for the drivers.

Driver conducting evacuation during drill. Note all passengers remain seated until directed to leave the bus in their turnProper evacuation procedure eliminates crowding at exit doors. Good distance between students keeps exit clear and free of jamming

-Alt photos Arcadia Police Department

Woman bus driver extinguishes practice flammable liquid fire from upwind after bus is evacuated. Students remain together at a safe distance

During the initial planning stages, i! was necessary to experiment with several evacuation systems, before arriving at a procedure which was both simple and effective. The method finally decided upon proved to be the most successful from the standpoint of control over the occupants and time necessary for evacuation.

After the program had been put together, and checked from all angles, it was decided to divide it into two sections: One to be concerned with bus evacuation, and the other to be primarily a class on fire extinguishers. Before going ahead, a handbook was written and an attempt made to cover specifically the driver’s duties, regardless of the emergency.

During the writing, drivers, teachers, school principals, and firemen were invited to discuss particular problems they felt might arise in emergencies. After the handbook was finished, although still in rough form, it was submitted to the safety review board for comments and suggestions.

In its finished form, the handbook covers

  1. School Bus Evacuation
    1. Normal procedure for bus evacuation (collisions, detection of smoke, etc.)
    2. Bus evacuation procedure for serious accidents (actual fire, bus lying on side, etc.)
    3. General information
    4. Procedure for teachers riding on bus
  2. Fire Extinguishers
    1. Description, types, theory of operation
    2. General information

Normal Procedure for Bus Evacuation

The following is a description of the procedure to be used if the front door —normally used for loading and unloading passengers—is operable and can be employed without subjecting the students to dangers such as fire, spilled gasoline, etc., as they use it.

The instructions are to be used in either a drill or emergency situation when immediate evacuation of a school bus is desirable. It is of utmost importance that these instructions be followed implicitly where the situation permits. Any deviation during practice will result in some personnel being trained to react differently from those who are drilled in the standard procedure. These differently trained groups, when mixed, will result in confusion and possible panic, if subjected to an actual emergency condition.

The driver of the school bus shall be in complete command of all evacuations. It is mandatory that he act quickly, with assurance, and retain control of all occupants throughout the complete operation.

  1. The bus shall be stopped, the parking brake set, engine turned off and red flasher lights turned on.
  2. The driver will give one loud blast on his whistle to gain attention. He will then open the exit door. Unless otherwise specified, the “exit door” will be the front door used during normal loading and unloading of the bus.
  3. Facing the rear of the bus, the driver shall move to the aisle abreast of the first occupied seats.
  4. The driver will give the command: “Remain seated—fire drill!”
  5. Still standing in the aisle between the first occupied seats, the driver will then turn, facing the front of the bus.
  6. Starting with either the right or left seat, the driver gives a tap on the shoulder to the person nearest the aisle to indicate that this seat may move out. While the indicated persons are in the aisle immediately adjacent to their seat, the persons in the opposite seat across the aisle will remain seated. The driver will hold his hand out toward them, palm out, in a restraining gesture, keeping them in place until the aisle has been cleared.
  7. When the indicated seat has moved forward far enough to clear the aisle, the seat being held back will then be allowed to begin evacuation following the procedure outlined above.
  8. The evacuation will continue as outlined until the bus is empty of all occupants.
  9. As in any fire drill, the persons evacuating the bus will continue a safe distance away and remain there as a group.
  10. After the last seat is emptied, the driver will check the entire bus to be sure no one remains. The driver will be at the rear of the bus when the last seat is evacuated and he will make his check from the rear forward. The last seats occupied may not be the extreme back seats of the bus, but the check must be made from the last seat in the bus forward.
  11. Moving toward the front of the bus during his check, the driver will remove the fire extinguishers from their brackets and leave the bus. Note: If the bus is equipped with hinged body panels or doors, and a body panel key is necessary to open them to gain access to the engine compartment, the driver will also take the body panel key with him as he leaves the bus.
  12. The driver will proceed to the location of the emergency area on the bus, and at that time determine what actions must be taken.
  1. If, in the driver’s opinion, the emergency is of such a nature that he needs help, he will see that the fire department is notified and will fight fire with his extinguishers until their arrival
  2. If the situation is such that the driver cannot control the fire and would needlessly endanger himself in the attempt, he will see that the fire department is notified and will remain with his passengers until the arrival of fire fighters. At that time, the driver will make himself available to the fire department.

Using this method, 60 students of fifth and sixth-grade levels were repeatedly evacuated from a standard school bus in an average time of 52 seconds. Prior to this test, neither the driver nor the students had received any instructions, or practice, in bus evacuation. The procedure is practically self-working in actual operation, and in many respects is very similar to the regular fire drill conducted in school classrooms. It was found that this plan could be used successfully at all grade levels, including primary, with a minimum of difficulty.

The procedure outlined above is, of course, only a portion of the program, and as mentioned before, may or may not be applicable, depending upon the nature of the situation. In teaching the evacuation procedure to the pupils, it was found that it could be taught by the drivers to their passengers with comparative ease.

The only instructions necessary to an untrained group is that they cease talking, remain seated until directed otherwise, do not run or jam up in the aisle, and when leaving the bus to stay together as a group a safe distance away.

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Since no complicated movements or additional commands are needed after the initial order of “Remain seated—fire drill,” it was found that even the youngest passengers had no trouble in correct participation.

All classes were conducted using the “explanation, demonstration, application” technique. Each subject was divided into classroom and practical periods and conducted along informal lines with questions and discussions encouraged.

In the practical portion of bus evacuation, the drivers and instructor acted as passengers on a school bus, with each driver, in turn, conducting the procedure as he would normally on his own bus.

During the two-day session on fire extinguishers, each driver brought to class the extinguishers carried on his bus. Arrangements were made with a local firm for immediately recharging the extinguishers as they were used. Drivers were given training of flammable liquid fires, using an oil-gasoline mixture in a 50-gallon drum that bad been cut in half lengthwise and was resting on the ground. Care was taken to see that they realized the limitations, as well as the capabilities of their extinguishers.

The last day of class was devoted to combining all that had been learned into one final exercise. Each driver pulled into a designated area with his bus loaded with children and simulated an emergency condition. Passengers were evacuated and adjacent flammable liquid fire was extinguished by the driver.

As an interesting sidelight during the evacuation school, a commercially owned, leased, school bus passing through Arcadia became involved in a minor fire while filled with children of elementary age. The driver, from another city, had received no training in emergency procedures and did practically nothing right. This is not a reflection on his ability, but only points up the need for an organized plan. Although the emergency program for the Arcadia drivers had not been completed at the time, two of the drivers whose routes carried them by the involved bus, stopped and extinguished the fire and maintained control over the frightened children.

The fire had been caused by a leaking line which dropped oil on the hot exhaust manifold and resulted in a dense, smoke-filled bus interior, with subsequent near-panic of the children and the driver. On-the-scene interrogation of the two Arcadia drivers revealed that the knowledge they had applied in the extinguishment of the fire, and the control of passengers, had been gained from classroom discussions during training.

Practice sessions

Drivers use the drill in lieu of normal unloading operations in the morning deliveries at school. These drills are conducted at least once a month at the driver’s discretion.

The program has been wholeheartedly accepted by the drivers, most of whom had individually wondered what they would do should emergency action become necessary. Aside from recharging extinguishers used during the fire fighting portion, this program offers no financial problem since no additional equipment is required other than the school buses, fire extinguishers and allied material already on hand.

Limited copies of the handbook containing the complete evacuation instructions are available without charge upon written request to the Arcadia Fire Department.

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