Special Needs Transportation

How to avoid air-conditioning failure on the special-needs bus

Dr. Ray Turner
Posted on June 1, 2005
Air conditioning cools, circulates, cleans and dehumidifies the air. Driver team members can minimize special-needs students’ exposure to dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat prostration by taking some necessary steps to avoid air-conditioning failure on the special-needs bus.

Condition the air
Air-conditioning systems provide bus interiors environmental control to avoid temperature variations or extremes to those passengers, particularly the medically fragile, who are heat or cold sensitive.

Other medically fragile passengers may require carefully controlled humidity in all of their environments, including the special-education bus. Some students are particularly sensitive and prone to heat exhaustion or heat prostration during their bus ride. Others tend to quickly dehydrate and must be provided appropriate fluid intake, particularly if the ride lasts more than 30 minutes.

When students become ill from overheating, driver team members are also likely to become ill, which compounds the risk of a serious bus accident or a multiple EMS patient management scenario.

Provide A/C and lift equipment care
Lift-equipped buses often operate under severe weather conditions. Lift doors must remain open for long periods during the loading or off-loading of students using wheelchairs. Extra cooling capability is important for lift buses since many are driven in urban areas with slow stop-and-go traffic. Dual air compressors may also be needed to effectively cool the lift bus. The following are some suggestions for avoiding air-conditioning failure on the special-needs bus:

1. Use heavy-duty alternators to provide consistent and adequate amperage output for air conditioning, lift operation and warning light systems.

2. Install additional bus floor, ceiling and wall insulation to provide effective use of air-conditioning units on the special-needs bus. Few special-needs buses are sufficiently insulated to provide the temperature stability necessary for some medically fragile students.

3. Tint all windows on air-conditioned special-needs buses. Tinted windows further assist in effectively cooling the bus interior and passenger seating area. If some specially equipped lift buses could be stored indoors or even in the shade, their interior heat could be minimized. No air conditioning, regardless of how efficient, can reduce the interior temperature more than 20 degrees.

4. Drive buses with roofs that are painted white. They reflect heat from the bus interior and enable the air-conditioning system to work more effectively.

Make room for a spare
Spare buses provide effective air-conditioning service to special-needs students when their regular bus equipment fails. School systems must maintain an adequate supply of repair parts to accomplish same-day or overnight repairs while an air-conditioned spare bus is provided.

Students with medical authorization to require air conditioning and their parents should reasonably expect the school district to provide appropriately equipped spare buses rather than rely on prolonged bus maintenance intervals.

All equipment can and will fail eventually. The issue is: When buses do fail, will the school district be ready to provide continuous special-needs transportation service?

Dr. Ray Turner, owner of White Buffalo Press (www.whitebuffalopress.com), is also special-needs coordinator at Northside Independent School District in San Antonio.

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