NTSB Calls for Fire Suppression Systems in School Buses

The safety board's report on a 2017 school bus fire that killed a 74-year-old school bus driver and a 16-year-old student passenger near Oakland, Iowa, includes recommendations concerning safety equipment on school buses, physical performance tests for school bus drivers, and a recommendation that the state of Iowa require twice-yearly, documented school bus evacuation training and drills.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued 10 recommendations in its June 18 report on a Dec. 12, 2017, school bus fire that killed a 74-year-old school bus driver and a 16-year-old student passenger near Oakland, Iowa. The recommendations concern safety equipment on school buses, physical performance tests for school bus drivers, and a recommendation that the state of Iowa require twice-yearly, documented school bus evacuation training and drills, including showing students how to open a manually operated loading door.

A recommendation directed to the U.S. Department of Transportation called for the agency to require in-service school buses to be equipped with fire suppression systems that, at a minimum, address engine fires. Two recommendations called for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require all new school buses to be equipped with fire suppression systems that, at a minimum, address engine fires and also to develop standards for newly manufactured school buses, especially those with engines that extend beyond the firewall, to ensure that no hazardous quantity of gas or flame can pass through the firewall from the engine compartment to the passenger compartment.

The driver of the 2004 International school bus had turned into a driveway to pick up his first passenger, the 16-year-old student. As the bus backed out of the driveway, its right rear tandem wheels crossed a 3-foot-wide earthen strip adjacent to the road and dropped into a 3-foot-deep ditch. The bus became stuck with about half of the vehicle positioned across the road. As the driver attempted to move the bus forward out of the ditch, a fire began in the engine compartment and spread into the passenger compartment.

The safety board determined that the probable cause of the incident was 1) the driver's failure to control the bus, backing it into a roadside ditch for reasons that could not be established, and 2) the failure of the Riverside Community School District to provide adequate oversight by allowing a driver to operate a school bus with a known physical impairment that limited his ability to perform emergency duties. The probable cause of the fire was ignition of a fuel source on the exterior of the engine's turbocharger due to turbocharger overload and heat production, which occurred because the exhaust pipe of the bus was blocked by the bus's position in the ditch.

Recommendations issued to Blue Bird Corporation, Collins Industries, Inc., IC Bus, Starcraft Bus, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., Trans Tech, and Van-Con, Inc. call for them to install on all newly manufactured school buses fire suppression systems that, at a minimum, address engine fires and also ensure that for any opening or penetration of the engine firewall, no hazardous quantity of gas or flame can pass through the firewall from the engine compartment to the passenger compartment in newly manufactured school buses.

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