BCS modifies school buses

Published 6:58 pm Saturday, March 3, 2012

Some two dozen Beaufort County school buses have been inspected, modified and declared safe according to local public school officials.
The work, completed last week, came at the direction of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s School Transportation section which asked all local school system transportation departments to perform special inspections on their bus fleets after a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bus caught fire last month in southeast Charlotte.
Transportation officials at the county’s public schools performed the special inspections and modifications over a series of three days in order to prevent a similar situation from happening to local school buses.
Six students were on the bus on Feb. 8 in Charlotte when the driver noticed smoke coming from the dashboard of the bus and got the students off safely before the bus was engulfed in flames.
“We moved quickly on this,” said Jerry Wynne, director of transportation for the Beaufort County Schools. “We started exploring the issue as soon as we received word.
“This particular problem has been solved,” he said. “I believe the buses are safe.”
Reviews and inspections of the bus that caught on fire have identified as its cause the rubbing of a wiring harness that controls a bus’s heating system against a metal heater shutoff valve to the point that a protective cable covering was worn and exposed the wire, causing a short in the system.
State School Transportation Services Section Chief Derek Graham said that he and his team are seeking clarification from Thomas Built Buses, but it appears probable that the buses with this situation are most likely from bus shipments received between summer 1998 through 1999.
“Now that we have more information about the likely cause of this fire, we want to use this information to be more diligent in preventing any other incidents,” Graham said in a press release announcing the inspections.
A memo was sent to all local school district transportation departments instructing them to inspect the school buses and activity buses in that date range for wiring issues similar to those found to have caused the fire.
School bus maintenance workers have replaced the protective cables, relocated the wiring harnesses and adjusted the heater valves on 26 buses in response to the directive from the state, Wynne said.
An inspection of the Beaufort County Schools buses showed that in three instances, the  protective cable had been compromised and the wiring exposed, Wynne said.
Although initial reports indicated that the fire started in the switch panel to the left of the driver, further inspection pointed to worn wire coverings as a likely cause.
Thomas Built Buses is completing a more detailed report on the fire, state officials have said.
In North Carolina, approximately 13,700 school buses transport public school students to school.
Beaufort County Schools has a total of 130 buses including 102 “yellow” school buses, 18 activity buses and 10 buses that are kept in reserve.
The inspections and modifications performed by the local school system on the buses covered by the directive were in addition to the 42-point inspections performed on all the school system’s buses by technicians every 30 days, Wynne said.