HARRINGTON, Maine — A local school district has launched a new bus evacuation training initiative following an accident involving one of its buses wherein the rear emergency exit became unusable.
In the incident, a truck crashed into the back of the Maine School Administrative District (MSAD) #37 school bus, shattering the back window and warping the exit to the point where the latch didn’t work, Director of Transportation Dawn Coffin told SBF in an interview.
The truck was totaled and the bus sustained $40,000 in damage, but Coffin said that no students were injured, and they were able to evacuate the bus through the front door.
“The accident taught us that we needed to be prepared should we have to use an alternate [exit] route,” Coffin said. “As a team, we saw that we needed to be able to use every exit.”
As a result, the district’s drivers have participated in side window emergency exit evacuation training.
“It was fun, but it also taught us the techniques that we would have to use in the unlikely event of an emergency window evacuation,” Coffin said, adding that drivers learned that it’s best to exit through the window “feet first and belly down because that’s the way your body folds best.”
Drivers also found that putting a coat or some type of cloth over the edge of the window frame facilitates a more comfortable exit. On older buses, where the windows open outward, they had one driver standing on the outside of the bus holding it open while another driver was evacuating.
The MSAD #37 transportation staff holds two evacuation and safety training sessions per year with the district’s students and staff.
Ronie Strout, a school bus driver for the district, created informational booklets for students in kindergarten through first grade that are distributed during the sessions. Strout took information from the state's annual safety conference and added her own pictures and a song.
Coffin hopes to begin including the side window evacuation component in the sessions with the upcoming school year. She plans to start with the high school students first because she feels they will be able to handle this type of training better than younger students.
The transportation staff has taken into consideration the fact that some students may be unable to exit the bus through the side windows due to their size or due to special needs.
“Some of the buses are designed so that you can kick out the windshield, and they could go out that way,” Coffin explained. “For special-needs students, there’s the service door and the windshield, or on buses equipped with a wheelchair lift, that exit would be used, if necessary. You’re not apt to block all of the exits at the same time.”
In addition to the side window evacuation training, MSAD #37 modified the specs for its new buses following the accident. When the back window was shattered, a piece of the truck entered the bus and struck a student’s leg, so now, all new buses will have what Coffin described as a “wire mesh cage” over the lower back window. She said that this will help prevent anything from entering the bus even if the window breaks.
In addition, the rear emergency exit door on the new buses will be equipped with a three-point latch, which Coffin said will hold up better than the previous type of latch if an accident occurs.