OWEGO, N.Y. — The Owego Apalachin Central School District’s transportation department has raised the bar with its safety training program by reconfiguring a school bus to create its third SAFE (Student Accident Fire Evacuation) Bus, a mobile training station and classroom.
Mechanic Randy Murray, who is part of the department’s 11-member safety committee, cut a 1993 Thomas Built conventional bus in half, turned the rear half sideways and reattached it to the chassis. Special platforms and shatterproof glass were added to create a setup that allows trainers to simulate an overturned bus.
Transportation personnel, students and staff are able to safely climb through the roof hatch and rear exit of the bus for emergency training and preparation. Matthews Buses of New York donated the vehicle, which Owego set up with a television for training videos.
The vehicle cost the district approximately $1,500 to build and is inspected by the state. It travels approximately 2,000 to 2,500 miles each year and is serviced bimonthly.
Murray and other members of the department’s staff volunteered their nights and weekends to construct the SAFE Bus. He estimates about 420 labor hours went into the project.
The idea of the SAFE Bus originated in 1989 with Bob Gage, a school bus driver. He and others from the department had attended a safety training that was so impressive that the team returned to Owego to make changes to its program.
The transportation team received permission from the Board of Education to seek donations from local businesses to fund construction of the bus. Companies like Best Buy and other local vendors donated equipment, while others contributed monetarily.
Although Owego does share the SAFE Bus with other districts, it does not loan out the vehicle. A member of the safety committee accompanies the bus whenever it is in use. “We want to make sure that the trainees are being taught safely,” said Rose Winters, driver and safety trainer. “We have not had a single child injury since we implemented the SAFE Bus in 1989. We pride ourselves in that.”
“Community response to the SAFE Bus has been great,” said Pam Bird, also a driver and safety trainer. “We’ve had training with fire, police and EMS departments and have exhibited the bus at open houses. The parents were amazed.”