Bus technicians at top in contest

Published 6:25 am Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lifestyles & Features Editor

Beaufort County Schools can boast of having two of the top three bus inspectors in North Carolina in the wake of a recent statewide competition in Concord.
Bus technicians Danny Reed and Ashley Whitfield took first and third places, respectively, in this summer’s school bus-inspection event sponsored by the N.C. People Transportation Association.
While placing among the top three is certainly an accomplishment for Reed and Whitfield, it’s also good news for parents of Beaufort County students, according to Sarah Hodges, BCS’s public information officer.
“We want parents to take a lot of comfort in knowing the effort and time that is spent on enhancing safety in this department,” Hodges said of the BCS Transportation Department. “We’re very proud of Danny and Ashley, and this competition is just an example of what goes on here everyday.”
The competition began with a written, 50-question exam, and the top 12 competitors then moved on to the actual hands-on inspection category. That element featured a timed interior, exterior and under-the-hood/chasis inspections, Reed said.
Those inspections are all in a day’s work for the department, which is required by law to inspect the county’s school buses every 30 days. Those bumper-to-bumper inspections average about an hour each, according to Reed. Examining lights, brakes and steering mechanism are key components of the inspections. If a bus is found lacking, it is parked and a replacement is sent to the school it serves.
“They could never have won the competition and place as well as they did if they weren’t doing this work everyday,” Hodges said.
For Reed, a Washington resident, this is the second time he finished at the top. In 2007, he won the competition and represented the state at the national bus-inspection contest. His victory this year means he’ll go back to nationals, scheduled for Sept. 28 through Oct. 1 in Indiana.
“It feels good, it really does,” Reed said of his win. “I’m nervous about the national contest, but I’ve just got to get my second wind.”
Reed, who has been employed with BCS for 10 years, nearly won the state competition again last year, when he finished in second place.
Whitfield, a Bear Grass resident who has been employed with BCS for 13 years, was happy to finish in third place this year — but he initially tied for second in points standing. Two tie-breakers were necessary to determine the order of finalists, with a competitor from Yadkin County eventually named to the second place spot.
“The most challenging was the timed inspection part, but I only missed one question on the written test,” Whitfield said.
Like Reed, Whitfield is a veteran of the state contest. He missed the cut his first year and placed eighth during his second competition.
As contestants in the state contest, Reed and Whitfield got a jump start on a new state ruling that requires that every school bus inspector be certified by August 2011. By taking the written exam, they achieved that certification, according to Reed.
Reed and Whitfield are part of a team of professionals that keeps Beaufort County School’s fleet of 132 buses running, of which 102 are on the road any given day. BCS buses cover an area estimated at more than 800 square miles during the school year, according to Hodges.
In addition to a $500 gift card for his first-place win, Reed receives an expenses-paid trip to the national competition As a finalist, Whitfield won a $200 gift card.