Fire academy helps drivers know what to do
Fire Training Academy coordinators instructed school district staff members on how to deal with a smoke-filled bus at the academy on Monday.
A total of 22 district staff members — mostly bus drivers with a few substitute bus drivers, monitors and mechanics — participated in drills that focused on the safety of the driver and the students in their charge.
“Drivers need to know the importance of safety,” said Annabell Romero, the school district’s transportation director who also participated in the drills.
This is the first time the district has taken part in a drill like this and they hope to do it once or twice a year from now on, Romero said. The Fire Training Academy was willing to conduct the training for free, she said. The county sheriff’s department and the police department helped with the training for free, as well.
“We were really fortunate to have their expertise,” Romero said, adding the fire academy provided the staff members with very useful information when dealing with a situation such as a burning bus.
She also said the coordinators at the academy gave the drivers guidelines to follow during such an event to help streamline the process of getting students off the bus and to a safe place.
In order to simulate a situation in which smoke hampered a driver’s ability to see, academy coordinators filled the bus with water vapor. The vapor is heavier than real smoke and completely blocked people’s vision while in the bus.
A few drivers raised the point that they and their passengers would be out of the bus by the time it completely filled with smoke, if the bus happened to catch on fire.
Javier Torres, a coordinator at the academy, said they were giving the drivers the worst-case scenario. However, he added, the vapor filled the front of the bus in a little more than 30 seconds.
It would be hard for the driver to do everything they needed to do in that small amount of time before the bus filled with smoke, Torres said.
During the simulation, after the bus was completely filled with simulated smoke, the driver had to get everyone out of it. Other drivers filled in as the students, sitting one person to one seat.
Since no one could see, the driver had to command people with the sound of his or her voice. People then walked out of the bus, their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them.
Bus drivers pointed out that, unlike the staff members who knew the bus was filling with smoke and remained calm, students would most likely be frightened so it was important for the driver to be in command.
Once outside, the driver directed people to a safe space away from the mock burning bus, took a head count and reported to police officers and fire men what had happened to the bus.
“It was an eye-opener,” Romero said.